April 23, 2024

A drone attack on a small airport killed three members of an elite Iraqi Kurdish counterterrorism task force that operates in the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

Three task force members were also wounded in the attack on the airport, which is about 17 miles southeast of Sulaymaniyah, the second largest city in Kurdistan.

Turkey and more recently Iran have targeted Kurdish militants from their respective countries who shelter in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. The airport, mostly used by small agricultural planes for spraying pesticides, was recently repurposed to also be used as a training camp for Kurdish counterterrorism forces. The elite forces were focused primarily on Islamic State fighters in recent years, but now there are other Islamic militant groups that also move through Iraq’s porous borders with Iran and Turkey.

“We strongly condemn the terrorist attack,” said Bafel Talabani, president of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main political parties in Kurdistan and the dominant one in Sulaymaniyah. “This criminal act is an open trespassing of the border of the Kurdistan Region and of Iraq, and it is part of the conspiracy aimed at disturbing the peace and stability of the Kurdistan Region.”

Mr. Talabani did not say which country or group he believed was responsible for the attack.

Officials in Baghdad did not immediately comment on the attack.

Turkey has been particularly aggressive in using drone attacks to target the insurgent Turkish-Kurdish group, the P.K.K., regularly bombing sites in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In April, a similar drone attack happened near the international airport in Sulaymaniyah, but there were no casualties. Turkey denied responsibility for that attack.

Lt. Gen. Jabbar Yawar, the former minister of the Peshmerga, the Kurdistan region’s military force, said the attack on Monday followed the pattern of Turkey’s previous ones.

“We daily record violations by Turkey on our borders, and we do not know when these attacks will stop and when the central government would intervene to end these intrusions,” he said in an interview, adding that in 2023 alone, security officials had tracked more than 200 times that Turkey had either tried to breach or had breached Iraqi territory.

The International Crisis Group has documented a rising number of attacks by Turkey on P.K.K. militants inside Iraq between 2018 and 2022, with the number topping 300 in 2022.

Turkey has fought for decades against the P.K.K., which undertook a violent insurgency first within Turkey and then, after most of its fighters fled to Iraq, staged attacks from there. The United States and the European Union consider the P.K.K. a terrorist organization.

Alissa J. Rubin reported from Baghdad. Kamil Kakol contributed reporting from Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, and Falih Hassan contributed from Baghdad.

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