Turkey has closed its airspace to aircraft departing and arriving at the northern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah. The airspace closure was announced this week and is set to continue until July 3, when the situation will be reviewed by Turkish authorities.
In a written statement, the Foreign Ministry Spokesman Tanju Bilgic cited the reason for the airspace closure as being the presence of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in the region and reports of an incursion into the Sulaymaniyah International Airport facility.
According to news source Al Jazeera, the airport director had received emails from Turkish airlines on Monday this week advising that flights for Monday and Tuesday were cancelled. A further email then advised of an extended suspension of flight operations until April 11.
Airport director Handren al Mufti is quoted as stating that no security issues had taken place and “not a single incident of security breach occurred inside the airport.”
The situation escalated in recent times when two helicopters carrying Kurdish militants were involved in fatal crashes in the northern Iraq region, sparking claims of possession of helicopters by the PKK.
Previous history of airspace closures
There have been several instances of airspace closures between Turkey and northern Iraq in the past, primarily due to the conflict between Turkey and the PKK.
In 2015, Turkey closed its airspace to northern Iraq after Turkish F-16 fighter jets bombed PKK targets in the Qandil Mountains. The PKK had been using the mountains as a base for attacks on Turkey.
In 2017, Turkey closed its airspace to flights originating from northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. This came after the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held an independence referendum that was strongly opposed by Turkey.
In 2019, Turkey again closed its airspace to northern Iraq after launching a military operation against the PKK in the region.
These airspace closures have had significant impacts on air travel and trade between Turkey and northern Iraq, and have added to the tensions between the two sides.
About the PKK
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is a militant organization that was founded in 1978 in Turkey. Its original goal was to establish an independent Kurdish state in the region.
The PKK has been designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, the European Union, and other countries.
The PKK’s tactics have included guerrilla warfare, sabotage, and terrorist attacks against Turkish government and military targets, as well as against civilians.
The group has also reportedly been involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activities to fund its operations.
The PKK has gone through various phases in its history, including periods of ceasefire and negotiations with the Turkish government.
However, it has resumed its armed campaign in recent years, particularly in response to the Turkish government’s military operations against Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq.
The conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK has resulted in thousands of deaths and has displaced many Kurdish people.