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PKK announces withdrawal of 'guerrilla forces' from Iraq's Sinjar

Withdrawal comes after threats by Turkey to invade the province and drive out the Kurdish group
An Iraqi Kurdish fighter on the outskirts of the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar (AFP)

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has announced it will be withdrawing its forces from the northern Iraqi area of Sinjar, although local pro-PKK security services will remain in place.

The moves come shortly after the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, threatened to invade Sinjar to drive out the PKK, who have been engaged in a decades-long war with the Turkish state.

A spokesman from the organisation said that the security apparatus set up in Sinjar was now strong enough to stand on its own.

“It is indisputable that we will be with the [Yazidis] in Bakur, Rojava, Bashur and Iraq in the event of an attack from any target," said the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), referring to the different Kurdish regions in the Middle East by their Kurdish names. 

"Guerrilla forces intervened in [Sinjar] in order to rescue the [Yazidis] from genocide. With the confidence of reaching this goal, guerrillas are withdrawing from [Sinjar]."

The PKK first intervened in Sinjar in 2014 when the Islamic State group swept into the province and began killing and enslaving members of the Yazidi religious community, whom the group considered heretics.

PKK and pro-PKK forces managed to drive out the militants and since then have maintained a shaky presence in the province, sometimes clashing with rival Kurdish groups. They now share control of the province with Lalesh, a Yazidi group backed by the government in Baghdad.

On Monday, Erdogan said that Turkish forces will press their offensive against Kurdish fighters along the length of Turkey's border with Syria and if necessary into northern Iraq.

Turkish troops and their militia allies swept into the northwest Syrian town of Afrin on Sunday, the culmination of an eight-week campaign to drive the PKK-linked People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters from the region.

On Monday, a Turkish aid group started distributing relief supplies in the town centre. But residents continued to leave after widespread reports of looting by Turkish-backed forces.

The PKK has been based in Qandil mountain region near Iraq's border with Iran since the early 1990s, but Erdogan said a "second Qandil" was being established in Sinjar, further west.

He said Turkey had told the Iraqi government to deal with the threat.

The Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim, was holding talks with the Iraqi government, Erdogan added.

"However, if this issue is prolonged much longer, there will be an Olive Branch there too."

More 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK launched its guerrilla war against the Turkish state in 1984.

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