Sulaymaniyah Airport attack sparks international reactions

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) International observers and leaders have reacted to the suspected Turkish drone attack on the commander in chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Abdi, at Sulemaniyah International Airport in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Reactions across the board have condemned the attack; some have called for far-reaching consequences.

Abdi himself accused Turkey of the attack, saying it sought to “sabotage” the SDF’s international relations. It is particularly annoyed at the “patriotic and humanitarian” stance of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the second-largest political party in the region, which has close relations with the SDF.

The PUK’s leader, Bafel Talabani, visited Abdi in northeast Syria late last year.

Abdi also noted that Turkey is attempting to upend the SDF’s partnerships with other anti-ISIS groups, like the US-led Global Coalition, as well as Iraqi and Kurdish anti-terror units, which he was meeting in Sulemaniyah before the attack.

Additionally, “[Turkish president] Erdogan seeks to win the elections and creates a state of chaos to eliminate the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) so that he can open the door for a new invasion of the region,” Mazloum Abdi told North Press.

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), northeast Syria’s chief diplomatic body, said that “the Turkish government intentionally violates the international law and rules of good neighborliness, and threatens the lives of the civilians through direct and indirect interference.”

It added that Turkish attacks are destabilizing the Iraqi community – one of their main partners in the fight against terrorism.

Ilham Ahmed, the SDC’s President of the Executive Committee, argued that “continuous Turkish violations of the sovereignty of Syria and Iraq destabilize the Middle East. The PUK is our permanent ally and supporter,” in a personal tweet.

The AANES, the ruling body in the region, said that Turkey “aims to create chaos through its interventions and violation of the sovereignty of the neighboring countries.” Adding that “Turkey is unleashing its hand in Iraq and the Kurdistan region under flimsy arguments and pretexts.”

Bafel Talabani, the PUK leader, condemned the attack and the “futile attempt” to destabilize the region’s security, calling it a “red line”. The party head hinted that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the PUK’s chief political rival, may have passed information to Turkey, saying that it “is not a strange case and we have a long history with it.”

The KDP is rumored to collaborate with Turkish forces against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the region’s north. However, no evidence has yet been uncovered tying Friday’s attack to the KDP.

Iraq’s presidential office, which is headed by a former PUK party member, also condemned the attack, saying, “There is no legal justification that authorizes the Turkish forces to continue their approach in terrorizing peaceful civilians under the pretext of the presence of anti-Iraqi forces on Iraqi soil.”

The statement further called on the Turkish government to “take responsibility” and “offer an apology,” threatening “a firm stance to prevent their recurrence.”

Iraq’s government has long protested what it sees as an illegal Turkish occupation of sovereign Iraqi territory. In July last year, at least nine Iraqis were killed and 23 were injured by a Turkish rocket attack on a holiday resort in the KRI.

Over the weekend, a number of US officials have also commented on the drone strike. Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic senator for the state of Maryland, called it “unacceptable”. Van Hollen demanded a full investigation and for the responsible parties to be held to account.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) confirmed to North Press that the case is under investigation on Saturday. A spokesperson for the DoD stressed that US forces will remain in Syria and Iraq supporting “local partner forces and to achieve the enduring defeat of ISIS.” The DoD has so far not named a culprit for the attack.

The voices within the US security establishment calling for Turkey to be reined in over its attacks on the US partner force have increased in recent months. Michael Rubin, a former official at the Pentagon, argued that it is time to sanction Turkish officials over such attacks, as well as stop intelligence sharing, delist PKK, and kick Turkey out of the anti-ISIS coalition. Rubin even proposed that the US should outfit the SDF with drones of their own.

Rubin says Friday’s attack was a way for Erdogan to “show that he is tracking Mazloum Abdi and other SDF commanders” as well as to spark a crisis to “distract the Turks from his poor record of economic management ahead of the May 2023 elections [in Turkey].”

Erdogan may also want to “show Washington how serious he is about de-legitimizing the SDF for their unwillingness to subordinate themselves to Turkey’s whims,” he added.

Reporting by Sasha Hoffman