ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish warplanes struck PKK targets in northern Iraq on Saturday, the military said, ignoring protests from Baghdad which said Turkey’s repeated air strikes violate Iraqi sovereignty and endanger civilians.
Iraqi authorities summoned Turkey’s ambassador in Baghdad on Friday after Ankara said it killed eight militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey said it would continue attacking the PKK as long as it sought refuge in Iraq.
In a statement on Twitter, Turkey’s armed forces said they carried out air strikes in northern Iraq on December 14 and 15, killing seven militants. It was not immediately clear whether those casualties were in addition Friday’s toll.
Turkey regularly hits PKK bases across its southern border, saying the militants use the mountainous northern Iraqi region as a base for deadly attacks inside Turkey, where the Kurdish separatist group has waged an insurgency since the 1980s.
In a speech on Saturday, Erdogan said Turkish air strikes against PKK targets in the Iraqi region of Sinjar earlier this week had “turned those places into their graveyards.”
“We will bury them in the holes they dug,” he told supporters in Turkey’s southwestern city of Denizli.
Erdogan threatened to launch a ground offensive in northern Iraq earlier this year. This week he also announced an imminent operation against a Kurdish militia in neighbouring Syria.
The U.S.-backed YPG militia, which has been fighting Islamic State in Syria, controls Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey. Ankara says it is an extension of the PKK and poses a direct threat to Turkey.
“The activities of the PKK terrorist organisation in the territory of Iraq and Syria have become a national security issue for Turkey,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said.
Turkey’s operations “will continue as long as terror organisations nest on Iraqi soil and as long as Turkey’s security needs require it to,” Aksoy said.
The PKK is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. It has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast that has killed about 40,000 people.
Reporting by Dominic Evans, editing by Louise Heavens and Ros Russell