Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday sued his main opposition rival for claiming he was personally “responsible” for the deaths of 13 Turks in Iraq.
Turkey accuses outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants of executing the 13 police officers and security personnel, whom they had abducted in Turkey and held hostage in a cave in northern Iraq.
But the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies, said the 13 were killed by Turkish bombs dropped during a rescue operation Ankara launched last week.
The failed rescue attempt has piled political pressure on Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey as prime minister and president since 2003.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said in parliament on Tuesday that it was “Erdogan who is responsible for our 13 martyrs”.
“You are launching an operation, but all the hostages died,” Kilicdaroglu said.
His comments infuriated Erdogan, whose lawyers are now seeking 500,000 Turkish liras ($72,000, 60,000 euros) in compensation for “moral damages”, the Anadolu state news agency reported.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), parliament’s second-largest opposition group, also criticized Erdogan for the failed operation, arguing that negotiations would have been more effective.
But Erdogan’s right-wing allies, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), threw their support behind the government.
“Turkey is a rising power which fought in (northern Iraq) not only against the PKK but also against strategic threats,” MHP leader Devlet Bahceli tweeted.
The Turkish army regularly conducts cross-border operations and air raids on PKK bases in northern Iraq.
On Wednesday, Erdogan said more than 12,900 Kurdish militants — 6,000 at home and 6,900 abroad — have been killed since a ceasefire with the PKK broke down in July 2015.
The PKK have been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 that is believed to have left more than 40,000 dead.
Turkey’s botched rescue attempt also caused a diplomatic spat between Ankara and Washington, which initially said it was waiting for official confirmation before blaming the deaths on the PKK.
Washington blamed the group after Erdogan accused the United States of siding with “terrorists”.