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Protesters storm Turkish base in north Iraq, teenager killed

Turkish soldiers shot at protesters and the burning of vehicles and equipment caused several explosions
Turkey resumes flights to Sulaimaniyah, Iraq

ERBIL/SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq: Angry protesters stormed a Turkish military base in northern Iraq on Saturday, burning Turkish military vehicles and leading to a confrontation that left one teenager killed and 10 injured, according to officials in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
The protesters were demonstrating against a recent Turkish air raid that killed six civilians, the officials said.
A video obtained by The Associated Press showed a crowd of protesters who appeared to be mostly in their 20s inside the base in the town of Shaladze. Some tried to smash the door of what appeared to be a warehouse at the base with a rock while another tried to destroy a Turkish tank with a hammer. Fire and smoke could be seen rising from military vehicles.
A statement by the Kurdish Regional Government, or KRG, expressed regret for the loss of life and extended sympathy to the families of the victims. The statement said it will investigate the incident and punish those behind the chaos and sabotage.
Turkey's Defense Ministry said that a Turkish military base in northern Iraq came under attack by Kurdish militants and that some vehicles and equipment were damaged. In a tweet, the ministry blamed the attack on a "provocation" by the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK. The far-left group is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its NATO allies.
The PKK has waged an insurgency within Turkey since 1984 and is based in camps in northern Iraq near the Turkish border. Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, which resumed in 2015 after a fragile two-year cease-fire.
Eyewitnesses said Hassan Rekan Hussein, a 13-year-old from Shaladze, was killed in the incident Saturday, and 10 were injured. They were shot at by the Turkish soldiers at the beginning of as protesters broke into the base, the eyewitnesses said.
Vyan Sabri, a lawmaker who heads the bloc representing the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or PYD, in the Iraqi Parliament, blamed the PKK for "exploiting" Saturday's peaceful protest.
She called on the PKK to end its "illegitimate" presence in the region and on Turkey to cease its airstrikes.
A PKK politician, Kawa Sheikh Moussa, rejected the Turkish accusations.
"We do not have any office or representative in Shaladze," he said. He added that the demonstration was an angry reaction to the Turkish killing of civilians.
Turkish jets regularly bomb the camps and Turkey has a military presence in Iraq as part of a mandate that allows it to fight security threats in Iraq and Syria. The incident, the first of its kind, poses an embarrassment to Kurdistan's regional government, which is allied with Turkey.
Speaking in southeastern Gaziantep province Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish jets and armed drones flew into Iraq on Saturday. "Today they tried to do something wrong in Iraq again," he said, referring to Kurdish militants.
The PKK is believed to have fighters near villages inside the Kurdistan region, mainly in the mountainous areas near the Turkish border.

Turkey resumes flights to Sulaimaniyah
Also on Saturday, Turkey resumed flights to the Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah for the first time after a 16-month boycott, the director-general of Iraq's Civil Aviation Authority said.
Ali Khalil Ibrahim said a Turkish Airlines flight landed at the airport Saturday morning, coming from Ankara. Turkey stopped flights to the Kurdish airport in September 2017 after the Iraqi region held a controversial independence referendum.
Earlier on Saturday, flights resumed between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, according to aviation authorities, after a 16-month air blockade imposed by Ankara over an independence referendum.
Kurds in the administratively autonomous northern region overwhelmingly voted for independence in a non-binding referendum in September 2017 that infuriated Baghdad as well as Iraq’s neighbors, Turkey and Iran.
In retaliation, Baghdad and Ankara blocked international flights from the two main Iraqi Kurdish cities of Irbil and Sulaimaniyah.
Almost all those restrictions were lifted last year but Turkey — which fears its own Kurdish minority could be inspired to push for independence — had maintained its blockade on Sulaimaniyah until Saturday.
“Implementing the Turkish government’s decision to lift the air blockade on international flights from Sulaimaniyah, the first Turkish Airlines flight landed early this morning and returned to Turkey,” said Sulaimaniyah airport chief Taher Abdallah.
He said the blockade cost the airport more than $5 million in 2018.
Iraqi Airways would resume flights between Sulaimaniyah and Istanbul in the coming days, civil air authorities said.
That brings air traffic to and from the Iraqi Kurdish region back to its status before the 2017 referendum.
At the time, the federal government rejected the poll as “illegal,” imposed economic penalties and seized the disputed Kirkuk oil fields, halting exports.
But ties have improved markedly in recent months.
Authorities announced the resumption of oil exports from Kirkuk in November and last week, parliamentarians passed a 2019 budget guaranteeing Baghdad would pay the salaries of the Kurdish region’s public workers and peshmerga armed forces.

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