Experts in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have warned that PKK terrorists, responsible for recent market fires in Irbil, Duhok and Kerkuk in Iraq, aim to destabilize the region and create an atmosphere of fear to hinder the KRG’s development.

The PKK, known for previous attacks on villages, hospitals and schools, has recently escalated its tactics by targeting markets, resulting in significant financial losses and widespread fear among civilians.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Cemal Abdulla, a researcher and writer, highlighted that these attacks aim to provoke instability despite the KRG’s efforts to maintain strong relations with Türkiye.

Abdulla emphasized, “The PKK seeks to impose its presence in the region by spreading terror. Just as in Syria, where it has forced people to flee in panic. Setting markets ablaze here is an act of terrorism.”

He recalled the tragic events in which the bloody group targeted some villages, hospitals and schools, while killing teachers and kidnapping women.

Stating that the stability of the KRG is not in the PKK’s interest, Abdulla said, “The PKK terrorist organization wants to impose its presence in the region.”

“Look at Syria, where it imposes itself. People are fleeing in fear and panic,” he emphasized.

“The relations between the PKK and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) have reached a very high level,” Abdullah also said. He added: “The PUK claims that they have no connection with the perpetrators of the fires. Why didn’t they make this statement a few months ago?”

The PKK seeks to legitimize its presence through political parties and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in northern Iraq.

In rural Sulaymaniyah, it often intimidates the local population by setting up “checkpoints” and through extortions and kidnappings. Collaboration between the PUK and the PKK in semi-autonomous northern Iraq risks spillover of the terrorist group’s violent campaigns to the wider region.

PUK, based in Sulaymaniyah, stands accused of giving more freedom of movement both in the city and rural parts of Sulaymaniyah to the PKK. Ankara has since closed off its airspace to flights to the city and halted its own flights. Particularly after 21 Turkish soldiers were killed in Metina, it repeatedly warned of “further measures” if the Sulaymaniyah administration continues to tolerate terrorists.

For economic burden

Commenting on the PKK’s recent actions, journalist Serbaz Salih noted, “As the PKK faces shrinking influence, it resorts to these terror tactics to create problems for the KRG administration, attempting to incite public unrest against it.”

During this period of market fires, Salih underscored the heavy economic burden on the KRG administration, exacerbated by the PKK’s attacks aimed at deepening these issues.

He added, “Choosing Irbil’s historic Kayseri Bazaar for arson highlights the PKK’s goal to destabilize the KRG, creating both a security crisis and hindering economic progress.”

Iraq’s Ministry of Interior spokesperson, Mikdad Miri al-Musevi, previously confirmed that PKK members were responsible for recent fires in Kerkuk, Irbil and Duhok, noting their intentions to ignite further blazes in other regions.

Hemin Mirani, director general of the KRG’s Ministry of Interior Council, identified individuals linked to the PUK and Peshmerga forces as perpetrators of the recent fires in Kerkuk, Irbil and Duhok.

While Irbil’s Kayseri Bazaar traders have demanded capital punishment for those responsible, PUK spokesperson Sadi Ahmed Pire has denied any association between his party and PKK members arrested for the recent arson attacks across Iraq.

A sabotage tactic

The PKK is known to often use arson attacks as a sabotage technique, hailed as such by the PKK’s de-facto leader Murat Karayılan. The group was blamed for a series of wildfires that raged across Türkiye’s 52 provinces in the Mediterranean, Aegean, Marmara, Western Black Sea and southeastern Anatolia regions in the summer of 2021, as well. The flames claimed at least eight lives and injured over 1,520 others.

Last year in December, Turkish authorities discovered a PKK plot for sabotage acts in the country. They detained 38 suspects linked to its “sabotage team” that regularly paid the suspects to run reconnaissance on potential targets.

One of the suspects confessed to police that he set fire to marinas in the Aegean resort city of Bodrum in January 2022 in exchange for TL 185,000, which amounted to roughly $10,000 at the time.

Similarly, in October 2020, the PKK claimed an attack where four arsonists linked to the “Children of Fire Initiative” burned forestland in southern Hatay province.

The so-called “initiative” was responsible for many arsons in recent years, and it is known for its close ties to the PKK. It has claimed the environmental destruction they caused was a so-called act of revenge.

The group has turned to “environmental terrorism” much more frequently in recent years after focusing on such acts of attacks and sabotage in the 1990s and 2000s from time to time, according to a report by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA).

The report, analyzing acts of “environmental terrorism” and the PKK’s forest fire sabotage, details how the terrorist organization has turned to forest fires to hurt Türkiye’s economy as it actively tried to scare away tourists while also trying to shift the blame onto the Turkish government.

The forest fires started by the PKK have been largely ignored by the international media, notes the report.

The PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union – is responsible for over 40,000 civilian and security personnel deaths in Türkiye during an almost four-decadelong campaign of terror.

Since the 1980s, Türkiye has been carrying out operations both in the country and beyond its borders, including in Iraq and Syria, to root out the terrorist group. The crackdown escalated thanks to a stronger army and advancing defense technology, as well as the expanding work of the intelligence service.

Authorities say the number of active PKK terrorists within Türkiye trickled down to hundreds when they were thousands a few decades ago.

Cross-border operations in northern Iraq and Syria have intensified notably since 2015, with both ground and air forces battling the organization.

In the last few years, operations have demolished terrorist lairs in the Metina, Avashin-Basyan, Zap and Gara regions of Iraq. After eradicating the group’s influence in these regions, Türkiye also aims to clear Sinjar, Makhmour and Qandil, where the PKK has its stronghold.

Ankara also battles the PKK’s offshoot YPG in northern Syria, where they plot attacks on Turkish forces or the local populations.

The terrorists set fire to forests and farmland across these regions on several occasions as well.

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