July 31, 2015 / 11:35 PM / in 2 years

Iraq's Kurdistan laments caught in middle of Turkey-PKK fight

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraq’s Kurdistan region is suffering the fallout as Turkey launches strikes against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camps in northern Iraq, the region’s top diplomat said on Friday, calling for both sides to return to a ceasefire.

“We are caught in between (the) two sides,” Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s department of foreign relations, told a small group of reporters in Washington.

Turkey has repeatedly attacked Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camps in northern Iraq over the past week, in what it says is a response to a series of targeted killings of police officers and soldiers blamed on the Kurdish militant group.

The United States has said it supports the strikes against the PKK, which it brands as terrorist group, even as it looks to Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria as close allies in the war against Islamic State militants.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter called the Kurdish region’s security forces, or peshmerga, a model for the kind of force needed to defeat Islamic State during a visit to the region’s capital, Erbil, last week.

Bakir was careful not to openly criticize Turkey, even though Iraq’s national government this week condemned Turkey’s assault on PKK militants in northern Iraq as “an assault on Iraqi sovereignty.”

But Bakir did acknowledge the fallout.

“This has affected us negatively, because it is the mountainous border areas of the Kurdistan region that have been bombarded,” Bakir said. “People have been displaced, people have been injured. ... Therefore we hope that both sides will go back to the ceasefire.”

Bakir said he was unable to provide figures on the numbers of people displaced or wounded. Asked about his position on the strikes, Bakir appeared to place the blame on both sides.

“We neither agree on the PKK to announce that the ceasefire is over, nor do we agree on Kurdistan region to be bombarded, because this is not the solution,” he said, noting that Turkey had also dismissed a peace process with the PKK.

Kurds live as minorities in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Although none of the populations has its own state, Kurds have ruled an autonomous region of northern Iraq since the early 1990s. That region borders the area now run by Kurds in northeastern Syria.

Turkey’s assaults on the PKK have coincided with its first air strikes against Islamic State and a decision by Ankara to open its air bases to the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State.

Bakir said he was assured in meetings with U.S. officials in Washington this week that the U.S. agreement with Turkey was solely about the fight against Islamic State, not about the PKK.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Richard Chang

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