Iraqi Kurds, PKK clash in north Iraq
DIYARBAKIR - Iraq's main Kurdish party and a Turkish rebel group fought a proxy battle Friday in the country's north, officials said, a conflict combining political rivalry and disagreement over territorial control.
Syrians Kurds tied to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) clashed with members of Iraq's Yazidi minority affiliated with Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has a long-running presence in north Iraq.
The KDP, the main party in Iraqi Kurdistan and which has close ties to Turkish authorities opposed by the PKK, considers the area where the clashes took place to be a part of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
But some Yazidis are still smarting from the failure of the Kurdistan region's peshmerga forces to protect them from the Islamic State group in 2014, and have been trained by the PKK, which helped them battle the jihadists.
The clashes -- and the disputes underlying them -- are examples of just some of the conflicts that are likely to come to the fore as Iraq's war against IS winds down and the veneer of unity collapses.
Both sides blamed the other for Friday's violence in the Sinuni area near the Syrian border, the toll of which was not immediately clear.
"There was a normal movement by peshmerga... in the Sinuni area, and during the movement, a group of those belonging to the Kurdistan Workers' Party" opened fire, said Halgurd Hekmat, spokesman for the Kurdish regional ministry responsible for the peshmerga forces.
"Peshmerga forces are responsible for the territory of the (Kurdish) region," Hekmat said.
But while the area has long been controlled by Iraqi Kurdistan, it is outside the region's official borders.
PKK spokesman Sarhad Warto gave a different account of events, citing a Turkish-KDP conspiracy to attack the Yazidis.
"In our opinion, there is an understanding between Turkey and the Kurdistan Democratic Party to attack the Yazidis' protection units," Warto said.
An official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a Kurdish party that was not involved in Friday's clashes but has forces in the area and is a rival of the KDP, also provided an account.
The clashes between the PKK-linked Yazidis and KDP-affiliated Syrians began at about 7:00 am (0400 GMT), according to the official, who declined to be identified by name.
The official said tensions escalated on Thursday when the Syrians sought to block the route between PKK forces and Yazidi fighters in the area, and that the fighting began the next morning.