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Blast at north Iraqi airport raises stress in Kurdish space

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BAGHDAD — An explosion struck subsequent to the Suleimaniyah Worldwide Airport in northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish area Friday, native officers mentioned.

The blast got here days after Turkey closed its airspace to flights to and from the airport, citing an alleged enhance in Kurdish militant exercise threatening flight security.

Turkey has spent years preventing Kurdish militants in its east. Giant Kurdish communities additionally dwell in neighboring Iraq and Syria the place they’ve a level of self-rule.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.Okay.-based opposition struggle monitor, and a few native media reported that the explosion was a Turkish drone assault on Mazloum Abdi, the chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the primary U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led drive in Syria.

Officers with the SDF and the Kurdish regional authorities in northeast Syria denied that Abdi was in Suleimaniyah on the time or had been the goal of an assault.

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Fethullah al-Husseini, a consultant of the Kurdish self-rule administration in northeast Syria, mentioned Abdi was “carrying on his work and is in northeast Syria.”

The airport’s safety directorate mentioned in an announcement that an explosion happened close to the fence surrounding the airport at 4:18 p.m. native time, inflicting a hearth however no accidents. It mentioned the reason for the blast was underneath investigation and the airport was working usually.

Lawk Ghafuri, head of international media affairs for the Kurdish regional authorities in Iraq, mentioned investigations had been nonetheless underway and that he was unable to verify whether or not the explosion had been a drone assault.

Nonetheless, an announcement from the Iraqi Kurdish regional authorities appeared guilty native authorities in Suleimaniyah, which it accused of frightening an “assault” on the airport and utilizing “authorities establishments” for “unlawful actions.”

The regional authorities, with its seat in Irbil, is primarily managed by the Kurdish Democratic Occasion, whereas Suleimaniyah is a stronghold of the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Two Kurdish officers in Irbil, who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t approved to debate the incident with reporters, mentioned that the explosion was attributable to a drone assault. Certainly one of them mentioned the assault had focused Abdi.

A consultant of the Turkish protection ministry mentioned he had no details about the incident.

Turkey’s international ministry introduced Wednesday that Turkish airspace was closed to flights taking off from and touchdown on the Suleimaniyah airport.

Turkish officers mentioned the closure was a response to an alleged enhance within the actions of the banned Kurdistan Staff’ Occasion, or PKK, within the metropolis of Suleimaniyah, together with its “infiltration” of the airport.

The choice got here weeks after two helicopters crashed in northern Iraq, killing Kurdish militants who had been on board. The incident fueled claims that the PKK was in possession of helicopters, infuriating Turkish authorities.

The SDF later mentioned it misplaced 9 fighters, together with a commander, within the crash, which occurred throughout dangerous climate on a flight to Suleimaniyah. The 9 included elite fighters who had been in Iraq as a part of an “trade of experience” within the struggle towards the Islamic State group, the SDF mentioned.

Officers from the Kurdish Democratic Occasion, which has maintained largely good relations with Turkey, alleged after the crash that the helicopters had been initially bought by the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and that they’d been flying with out permission from the regional authorities.

The Kurdish regional authorities was pressured final month to cease exporting almost half one million barrels of oil by means of through a pipeline to Turkey. That adopted a choice by the Worldwide Chamber of Commerce siding with the central Iraqi authorities in Baghdad in a long-standing dispute over the impartial export of oil by the Kurdish area.

Final week Baghdad and Irbil reached a deal to renew the oil exports.


Related Press writers Hogir Abdo in Qamishli, Syria, Suzan Fraser in Istanbul and Abby Sewell in Beirut contributed to this report. Abdul-Zahra reported from Boston.

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