Turkey increases military presence in Iraq
AS THE world’s largest stateless nation, Kurds have struggled for a century in pursuit of an independent state on the Mesopotamian plains.
However, the recent armed conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq once again puts into perspective the dangers of Kurdish disunity, as well as creating an opportunity for Turkey to deepen its military presence in Iraqi territory.
The PKK’s recent activities in northern Iraq have become a major security concern for Turkey.
The Federal Government of Iraq together with the KRG signed the Sinjar deal in Erbil in October last year in the hope of reducing the PKK presence in Mosul’s Sinjar district. The PKK has, however, since the deal increased its presence in KRG territory in northern Iraq.
Meanwhile, Turkey continues its large-scale air and ground operation called Claw-Eagle 2 against PKK militants holed up in the northern Iraqi region of Dohuk. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar’s visit to a Turkish Armed Forces military base in northern Iraq last month angered Iraqi authorities. In January Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey might conduct a joint counterterrorism operation with Iraq with the intent of clearing PKK terrorists out of the Sinjar region.
Following the withdrawal of Peshmerga forces from Sinjar without resistance when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) invaded the town in 2014, armed groups affiliated with the PKK managed to establish a foothold in Sinjar in mid-2014 with the justification that it was protecting Yazidis from Isil. Since then, the PKK has been trying to set up a new base in Sinjar in addition to its main headquarters in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq, a KRG-controlled area.
The Baghdad government is still suspicious of Turkey’s support for armed groups during the war against Isil. The Iraqi government has also on several occasions warned Turkey against its endless military operations against the PKK in Iraqi territory.
Turkey’s military presence in Iraq has become a point of major concern not only for Baghdad, but also for pro-Iranian forces in the country, as they have told Turkey to refrain from targeting their forces in Iraq.
Almost 40 million Kurds live between Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Armenia, and for many decades Kurdish political groups in these countries have been in a state of conflict over various territories. The Talabani and Barzani families have been engaged in a power struggle in northern Iraq; while Turkey's pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party participates in parliamentary politics, it is the PKK that is engaged in armed struggles in the mountainous regions. And Kurdish political parties in Syria do not function homogeneously; instead they have competed with each other to establish control since 2011.
Turkey continues to fight the PKK and its Syrian branch, the Syrian Democratic Union Party. The Turkish military has already established itself in Syria’s Afrin region following a military intervention in 2018, and now Turkish incursions are getting deeper – up to 20km inside Iraqi Kurdistan to prevent the unification of Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
It seems that the Erbil and Baghdad authorities will have to turn a blind eye to the Turkish military presence in northern Iraq in the face of increasing Iranian and PKK influence.