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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Eight Turkish troops killed in clashes with Kurdish militants

Iraq’s Kurdistan region offered a joint Kurdish-Iraqi deployment, with the participation of the US-led coalition that was helping fight ISIL, at a strategic crossing into Turkey

Iraqi forces gather at their camp on the front line in the northwestern town of Faysh Khabur, near the borders with Syria and Turkey, on October 28, 2017. Ahmad Al Rubaye / AFP
Iraqi forces gather at their camp on the front line in the northwestern town of Faysh Khabur, near the borders with Syria and Turkey, on October 28, 2017. Ahmad Al Rubaye / AFP

Eight members of Turkey’s security forces and five Kurdish militants were killed in a clash on Thursday near the border between northern Iraq and southeast Turkey, while Iraq’s Kurdistan region offered a joint Kurdish-Iraqi deployment at a strategic crossing into Turkey.

Turkey launched a helicopter-backed operation in search of further Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, who sought to cross the border in Hakkari province’s mountainous Semdinli district, said security sources, according to Reuters.

Six Turkish soldiers and two military security guards were killed in the fighting, while two soldiers were injured, said the army, adding that the military killed five members of the “separatist terror organisation”.

The PKK — designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and EU — launched a separatist insurgency in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

The Turkish military said that that the PKK fighters were “trying to benefit from the heavy fog and bad weather conditions” to launch an attack. Operations against the group in the southeast intensified after the collapse of a two-year ceasefire in 2015.

Meanwhile, hours after the Iraqi armed forces accused the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of delaying the handover to Iraq of control of the borders with Turkey, Syria and Iran, it offered a joint Kurdish-deployment at the Faysh Khabur crossing into Turkey, with the participation of the US-led coalition that was helping fight ISIL.

The KRG said that the offer was part of a “deconfliction” proposal made to Iraq’s central government on October 31. Other points included a ceasefire on all fronts, continued cooperation in the fight against ISIL and a joint deployment in disputed areas, which are claimed by both the KRG and the central government.

The KRG "continues to welcome a permanent ceasefire on all fronts, deconfliction and the start of a political dialogue" with Baghdad, the Kurdish statement said.

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Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi ordered economic and military retaliation after Iraqi Kurds in September voted for independence in a referendum, which Baghdad said was illegal.

Mr Abadi said that the Kurds must cancel the referendum’s outcome before any dialogue between the two can be launched.

Iran and Turkey support Mr Abadi’s measures against the Kurds, fearing the drive for independence will spread to their own sizeable Kurdish populations.

The joint deployment at the strategic Faysh Khabur crossing was meant "as a goodwill gesture and trust-building exercise that ensures a limited and temporary arrangement until an agreement is reached in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution", the Kurdish statement said.

Faysh Khabur is strategically important for the Kurdistan region because it is the point where its oil pipeline crosses into Turkey.

State oil marketer Somo said on Thursday that Iraq expects to resume exports from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk to the Turkish city of Cehyan in November, using the Kurdistan pipeline.

Iraq's entire land border with Turkey is located inside the Kurdish autonomous region and has been controlled by the Kurds since before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Mr Abadi declared a pause on Friday in an offensive that began on October 16 to take over the disputed areas. Kirkuk fell on the same day without much fighting.

The Iraqi Joint Operations Command accused the KRG on Wednesday of using the talks that started on Friday to "buy time" to strengthen Kurdish lines.

"We will not allow it; the federal forces are mandated to secure [the disputed] areas and borders," it said in a statement.

The Kurdish Peshmerga command also accused Iraqi forces on Wednesday of massing weapons and threatening force to resolve "domestic political differences".

Iraqi troops set up positions between Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish checkpoints on Tuesday at the Habur border crossing, between the Turkish town of Silopi and the Iraqi town of Zakho.

That meant vehicles crossing the border were subject to three separate checks.

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