SDF commander Mazloum Abdi says he was in a convoy with US troops at the Sulaymaniyah airport at time of attack.
The Iraqi government has called on Turkey to apologise for an attack on an airport in the country’s northern Kurdish region, denouncing what it called a “flagrant aggression” against its sovereignty in the area.
The demand on Saturday came as a Turkish defence ministry official told the Reuters news agency that no Turkish Armed Forces operation had taken place in that region in recent days.
Iraq’s presidency said the attack on Friday took place in the vicinity of the Sulaymaniyah airport in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. It blamed Turkey for the attack and said Ankara had no legal justification to continue “intimidating civilians under the pretext that forces hostile to it are present on Iraqi soil”.
“In this regard we call on the Turkish government to take responsibility and present an official apology,” it said.
Turkey, which has spent decades fighting Kurdish armed groups in its east, has conducted several military operations including air raids in northern Iraq and northern Syria against Kurdish-led forces there.
Ankara views the Kurdish-led forces as “terrorists” allied with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is backed by the United States, said in a statement on Saturday that its chief, Mazloum Abdi, was at the Sulaymaniyah airport at the time of the attack but “no harm was done”.
Abdi condemned the attack on Saturday, telling the Kurdish North press agency that at the time of the shelling, he was in a convoy that included troops from the US-led coalition and members of the Iraqi Kurdish anti-terrorism force.
Asked about the reason behind the attack, Abdi said “it is a clear message from the Turks that they are bothered and oppose our international relations and they want to damage them”.
Abdi added that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was looking for a “free victory” ahead of the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections next month.
A US official confirmed to Reuters there was a strike on a convoy in the area and US military personnel were in it, but said there were no casualties.
Around 900 US troops remain in Syria, most in the Kurdish-administered northeast, as part of a US-led coalition battling remnants of the ISIS, or ISIL armed group.
An informed source close to the leadership of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the party that controls the Sulaymaniyah area, and two Kurdish security officials also confirmed to Reuters that Abdi and three US military personnel were near the airport.
Al Al Jazeera’s Ameer Fendi, citing sources at the Sulaymaniyah airport, said the attack “damaged a large part of the facility’s outer fence, but did not cause any casualties”.
He noted that the attack came days after Turkey closed its airspace to aircraft travelling to and from Sulaymaniyah due to what it said was intensified activity there by PKK fighters, and said the shelling had escalated tensions between the main parties in the Iraqi Kurdish government.
A statement from the Iraqi Kurdish regional government, which is primarily controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, appeared to blame the PUK for Friday’s events. It accused them of provoking an attack on the airport and using “government institutions” for “illegal activities”.
Ankara has close ties to the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which is the largest party in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and is dominant in the regional capital, Erbil.
Its rival, the PUK, has closer ties to the PKK and is dominant in Sulaymaniyah.
Fendi, reporting from Erbil, said “the presidency of the Iraqi Kurdish region has called on the two parties to stop exchanging accusations and to investigate the circumstances of this recent shelling”.
“This tense atmosphere between the two sides of the Kurdish Regional Government comes at a time when the airspace in Turkiye remains closed to flights coming from Sulaymaniyah Airport, and at a time when many say the differences between both parties of the government should come to an end….as people here get ready for legislative elections scheduled for later this year,” he added.