Türkiye seeks Iraqi cooperation against PKK terror - M5 Dergi
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Türkiye seeks Iraqi cooperation against PKK terror

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Current political conditions and on-ground realities have brought Baghdad closer to cooperation with Ankara against PKK terrorists, expert opines as top Turkish and Iraqi officials work to meet in the middle.

Türkiye seeks the Iraqi government’s cooperation against terrorism across their shared border region as senior Turkish officials meet their counterparts in Baghdad for talks on security issues, particularly Ankara’s operations against the PKK terrorist group.

After meeting in Ankara in December, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, Defense Minister Yaşar Güler and intelligence chief Ibrahim Kalın are in Baghdad for the second security summit where they will discuss developing a “common understanding” on the fight against terrorism, a Turkish defense ministry official said.

The meeting comes as Ankara has ramped up cross-border operations against the PKK, which is based in northern Iraq’s mountainous regions, and warned of new incursions into the region.

According to Bilgay Duman, a researcher for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM), it has become much more plausible for Türkiye to conduct its anti-terrorism offensive in closer cooperation with Baghdad as it’s no longer enough to just keep the PKK off of the Turkish border.

“While operations in Iraq are keeping the border safe, they are still not enough to end the terror group for good,” Duman told Daily Sabah. “And Türkiye wants to cooperate with Baghdad against it.”

Growing danger

The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Türkiye, the United States and the European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the insurgency.

The conflict was long fought mainly in rural areas of southeastern Türkiye but is now more focused on the mountains of northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, where PKK militants are based.

Iraq has said the operations violate its sovereignty, but Ankara says it is protecting its borders. The intention is to establish a 30-40 kilometer security corridor to completely secure its southern borders.

The defense ministry official also said that officials from the Turkish army held talks with Iraqi counterparts over the weekend to discuss “measures to increase the security of the civilians” in the region where Türkiye is conducting operations.

Türkiye has since 2019 conducted a series of cross-border operations in northern Iraq against the PKK, dubbed “Claw,” the latest of which is the ongoing “Claw-Lock.”

“These pushed the PKK southward deeper into Iraqi territory, where the terrorists are targeting the Iraqi flag, its security forces and moving into urban centers, forcing Iraq to evacuate over 800 villages so far,” Duman said.

He believes the Baghdad government is also “aware” of the increasing threat PKK brings and “must now support Türkiye’s operations on its land.”

Duman acknowledged the changing conditions that rocked Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion, noting that Baghdad was “still trying to maintain sovereignty in all its territory” and pointed out a “much more stable and better secured Iraq” today.

“They’ve also been at odds with the KRG at times,” Duman said. “I believe their current circumstances could bring them to the same position with Türkiye regarding the PKK.”

Moving to a new phase

But Türkiye has certain concerns and expectations from the Iraqi side, Duman continued.

Above all, Türkiye expects Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the north to recognize the PKK as a terror group, something officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, often called for, stressing that the PKK, which occupies Sinjar, Makhmour, Qandil and Sulaymaniyah, threatens the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.

“Türkiye is concerned about the relationship between the PKK and the KRG, which is bound to come up during the security summit,” Duman noted. “Ankara also expects them to cut off logistical or political support to the PKK.”

The PKK seeks to legitimize its presence through political parties and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in northern Iraq.

In rural Sulaymaniyah, it often intimidates the local population by setting up “checkpoints” and through extortions and kidnappings. Collaboration between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the PKK in semi-autonomous northern Iraq risks spillover of the terrorist group’s violent campaigns to the wider region.

PUK, based in Sulaymaniyah, stands accused of giving more freedom of movement both in the city and rural parts of Sulaymaniyah to the PKK. Ankara has since closed off its airspace to flights to the city and halted its own flights. Particularly after 21 Turkish soldiers were killed in Metina, it repeatedly warned of “further measures” if the Sulaymaniyah administration continues to tolerate terrorists.

“Türkiye’s operations in Iraq hail from its right to self-defense per the U.N. charter,” Duman emphasized. “It will continue targeting the PKK in northern Iraq.”

At Thursday’s summit, setting up a joint operations center with Iraq for a more effective fight against terrorism will be on the table, an idea to which sources said Iraq has been more responsive in recent months.

Should Baghdad refrain from agreeing on such cooperation, however, Duman argued Türkiye would “not go ahead with its potential offensive.”

“But Türkiye wants to conduct its counterterrorism efforts together with Iraq because the PKK is no longer a threat singularly for Türkiye but also for Iraq,” he said.

This planned operation would be the final step in eradicating PKK terrorism at its core, finalizing the “Claw” series and ultimately moving into a new phase of counterterrorism in the region, Duman said.

Source: DailySabah

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