Iraq may soon top Ankara’s counterterrorism agenda
Iraq dominates a significant place on Turkey’s counterterrorism agenda but Ankara’s attention on the subject may increase even further in the coming months.
The Qandil Mountains, in northern Iraq, have been a safe haven used as headquarters by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The PKK’s Qandil base has been a bleeding wound for Turkey. It is from there that terror attacks against Turkey were reportedly planned.
Despite cross-border operations and air strikes for many years, Ankara has been unable to eliminate PKK forces in northern Iraq.
Another concern surfaced recently for the Turkish government about the PKK’s dominance in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq.
The PKK-affiliated Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) took control of Sinjar from the Islamic State (ISIS) in late 2015. The PKK’s Yazidi offshoot has been in the area since then. The YBS influence in Sinjar is equal to the PKK’s command, which greatly troubles the Turkish government.
Ankara is adamant about preventing the PKK from spreading its influence in the region through its Syrian offshoot Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the YBS. To that end, the Turkish government has repeatedly stressed that Sinjar would not be left in the hands of the PKK.
Turkey sought ways to join forces with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to defeat their common enemy — the PKK. KRG President Masoud Barzani has failed to achieve that alone.
As the PKK in Iraq is backed by Iran, Iraq’s central government, which is heavily influenced by Tehran, is unlikely to help Turkey in its war on terror.
Ankara’s stern warnings turned into action on April 25 when Turkish warplanes hit PKK bases in Iraq’s Sinjar. The next day, PKK positions in Iraq’s Zab region were hit.
News of the air strikes landed like a bombshell in the region and overseas. The United States was not pleased. Baghdad condemned Turkey for its breach of Iraqi sovereignty.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded by saying that Turkish troops may launch cross-border attacks against the PKK “overnight.”
Diplomatic sources said the air strikes in Sinjar were aimed at conveying the message to the United States that Ankara is determined to go all the way — and alone — if need be.
“The Turkish government showed that it is willing to do whatever is necessary to not allow the PKK and the YPG to operate along its borders,” one source said on condition of anonymity.
Unless Iraq’s central government or the Kurdish regional authorities cleanse the country’s north from terror groups that attack Turkey, Ankara will have no option but to increase its strikes against the PKK.
Abdullah Agar, a former Turkish military officer and a security expert, said there was a military build-up at the Turkish border town of Silopi.
In light of all this, one should not be astonished by an all-around Turkish offensive against terrorist elements inside Iraq in the coming months.
Iraq appears on its way to getting rid of the ISIS threat, which is welcome news. However, unless it gets rid of all terror threats on its territories, instability is likely to continue in that part of the region.