Turkish jets late Wednesday targeted a convoy of militants linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) near the Iraqi Yazidi town of Sinjar, killing a top commander and several of his guards, local sources told VOA.
The attack, confirmed by the Turkish military and the PKK, killed the Kurdish rebel group’s local commander Ismail Ozden, also known as Mam Zeki Sinjari.
In a tweet Wednesday, the Turkish General Staff said the operation was conducted in cooperation between the Turkish Armed Forces and the country’s intelligence services.
Dawid Shex Jundy, a member of Nineveh provincial council, told VOA the raid targeted the militant convoy in western Sinjar as they were driving back to their bases from a local Yazidi ceremony on the fourth anniversary of the Islamic State massacre in the Yazidi village of Koco.
Jundy said at least five other militants were killed in the attack.
He added that the attack was a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and that it happened as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was on an official trip to Turkey earlier this week.
“It is a disrespect to Iraq when Turkey crosses our border at the same time as the Iraqi prime minister was visiting them,” Jundy said.
During a joint press conference Tuesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, al-Abadi said his government would work with Turkey to control their shared border, adding that Iraq “rejects the launch of any assault towards Turkey from inside the Iraqi territory.”
Turkey and Iraq signed the Border Security and Cooperation Treaty in 1983 that allows cross-border operations between the two countries in pursuit of militant groups. Turkey has since launched more than 20 military operations and conducted hundreds of airstrikes inside Iraq against PKK militants.
Turkey’s latest target, Ozden, 66, is considered to be seventh in PKK’s leadership command and has been on the Turkish government’s most wanted “red category” list. He was arrested in Germany in 1996 for alleged ties to PKK but was released in 1998.
A statement from the PKK’s political wing, the Kurdistan Communities Union, Thursday accused the Turkish government of trying to obliterate the Yazidis and threatened to retaliate.
“We vow to establish a free Kurdistan and Yazidi land, which was his long-pursued dream,” the statement said.
PKK is a Kurdish rebel group that has been attempting to establish Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for nearly 40 years. The group is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies, including the U.S. and the EU.
The Turkish-based group, which has been operating widely on the ungoverned mountains of Qandil in northern Iraq, sent hundreds of its fighters to Sinjar in 2014 to support Iraqi Kurdish forces against IS.
When IS fled Sinjar in late 2015, the PKK refused to withdraw and started training local militias.
Thursday’s statement from PKK’s Kurdistan Communities Union said Ozden helped hundreds of Yazidis flee IS to Syria, where they were hosted by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
The U.S. considers the YPG to be a key ally in the ongoing campaign against IS in Syria, despite strong opposition from Turkey. Turkey claims the YPG is the Syrian wing of the PKK.