Iraq enforces border positions to prevent Turkish advance

The invading Turkish troops set up posts in the Zakho district in northern province of Dohuk.
Sunday 05/07/2020
A view shows the entrance to the town of Sheladize after the Turkish airstrikes, in the north of Dohuk province close to the Turkish border. (Reuters)
A view shows the entrance to the town of Sheladize after the Turkish airstrikes, in the north of Dohuk province close to the Turkish border. (Reuters)

ERBIL –Iraqi troops are enforcing positions along the border with Turkey to prevent Turkish forces from advancing deeper into Iraqi territory, Iraqi security officials said Friday.

The move comes after two weeks of airstrikes as Ankara continues to target Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

The officials said Ankara has established at least a dozen posts inside Iraqi territory as part of a military campaign to rout members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who Turkey says have safe havens in northern Iraq.

The airborne-and-land campaign, dubbed “Operation Claw-Tiger,” began June 17 when Turkey airlifted troops into northern Iraq.

Since then, at least six Iraqi civilians have been killed as Turkish jets pound PKK targets, and several villages in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region have been evacuated.

The invading Turkish troops set up posts in the Zakho district in northern province of Dohuk, about 15 kilometres inside Iraqi territory, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the military operations.

Zerevan Musa, mayor of Darkar, said there were five Turkish posts close to his town, including two on the nearby Mt. Khankiri. He said Turkish airstrikes have hit Sharanish and Banka villages in the area.

“We demand from both sides, the Turkish government and the PKK, to keep their fight away from us,” said Qadir Sharanshi, a resident from Sharanshi village. He said his village has been hit several times.

Iraqi border guards erected two posts along the Khankiri range, said Brig. Delir Zebari, commander of the First Brigade of the Iraqi Border Guards, tasked with securing a 245-kilometer (153-mile) stretch of border territory.

Speaking from the brigade base, he said that his troops’ task is to “eliminate attacks on civilians in the area.”

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, fright wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus, visits Turkish troops at the border with Iraq, in Hakkari province, Turkey, June 19, 2020. (AP)
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, fright wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus, visits Turkish troops at the border with Iraq, in Hakkari province, Turkey, June 19, 2020. (AP)

Turkey regularly carries out air and ground attacks against the PKK in northern Iraq. It says neither the Iraqi government nor the regional Iraqi Kurdish administration have taken measures to combat the group.

The recent incursion into Iraqi territory has drawn condemnation from Baghdad, which has summoned Ankara’s ambassador to Iraq twice since the campaign was launched.

Turkey maintains that until the Iraqi government take actions against the PKK, it will continue to target the Kurdish group, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union for its decades-long insurgency within Turkey.

Turkey’s latest campaign poses a challenge for the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, which relies on Turkey for oil exports through a pipeline running from Iraq’s Kirkuk province to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

The semi-autonomous Kurdish region is also facing a wave of criticism from Baghdad and a host of suspicions about its possible role in the ongoing Turkish manoeuvres.

Iraqi political sources and media reports earlier revealed that Turkey had obtained intelligence assistance from parties linked to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq before launching the Claw-Tiger Operation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in mountainous areas inside the northern region.

The Arab Weekly was told that Ankara offered the KRG economic aid in exchange for information on PKK sites, with sources explaining that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been trying to exploit Iraq’s financial woes caused by a plunge in oil prices, which have also affected Erbil.

The sources did not provide conclusive evidence of Kurdish authorities’ alleged agreement to cooperate with Erdogan, but indicated that Turkey was rescheduling the KRG’s debts even before the start of the Claw-Tiger Operation.