Turkey threatens to clear terrorist group from Iraq’s Sinjar mountains

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a meeting in Ankara on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 22 March 2018

Turkey threatens to clear terrorist group from Iraq’s Sinjar mountains

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to clear terrorists from northern Iraq’s Sinjar mountains if Baghdad does not act on his warning that the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has set up a headquarters there.
Speaking on Monday, the president said: “We have told the central (Iraqi) government that the PKK is establishing a new headquarters in Sinjar.
“If you can deal with it, you handle it. But if you cannot, we will suddenly enter Sinjar one night and clear this region of terrorists.”
Erdogan said he told Baghdad to deal with PKK camps and warned Sinjar may become a stronghold for the group. “If we are friends, you will make it easy for us,” he said.
The PKK have waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state and are considered a terrorist organization by Ankara, Europe and the US.
For the past few months, Turkish and Iraqi officials have engaged in high-level political and military talks to discuss potential joint action against the PKK in Sinjar along the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Ankara has justified its previous operations against PKK hideouts in Iraq using Article 51 of the United Nations Charter on a country’s right to self-defense against armed attack.
Sinjar is strategically important because it unites the Kurdish areas in Syria to Iraq. The Syrian town of Afrin was captured by Turkish troops on Sunday in what it called Operation Olive Branch. Erdogan said Turkish forces and allied Syrian forces would press eastwards to Kobani, Manbij and Sinjar.
Some analysts interpreted Erdogan’s threat against Sinjar as a means of putting pressure on Washington, which partnered with Syrian Kurdish fighters against Daesh. Thousands have fled Afrin and the US State Department has declared itself “deeply concerned” about the humanitarian situation there.
Sinjar, 100 km west of Mosul, is one of the disputed areas claimed by both the Baghdad central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Although Baghdad fiercely opposes it, Kurds would like to incorporate this region into their autonomous territories.
Last October, a month after Iraqi Kurds voted for independence from Baghdad in a referendum, Iraqi central government forces took Sinjar after Kurdish forces pulled out. The region had been captured from Daesh by Kurdish troops in 2015.
The mountainous heartland of Sinjar is the ancestral land of Kurdish-speaking Yazidis. In 2014, thousands of Yazidis were slaughtered and others held as sex slaves by Daesh, focusing international concern on the plight of this minority group.
The UN concluded that Daesh had committed genocide against the Yazidis, many of whom volunteered to fight against the extremist group in the ranks of the PKK.
Hashed Al-Shaabi, an Iraqi paramilitary force mostly made up of Iranian-trained Shiite militias, also had Yazidis in its ranks. Any Turkish attack on Sinjar would risk being seen also as an attack against Yazidis.
“While Turkey could conduct an operation against the PKK in Sinjar based on Article 51 of the UN Charter, acting with the direct or silent approval of Bagdad and Irbil would invalidate any question on legality,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Arab News.
Iran’s approval would also be key for such an operation not only because of the leverage that Tehran has over Baghdad, but also because of Hashed Al-Shaabi’s presence around Sinjar, he said.
“As Sinjar was one of the scenes of atrocities by Daesh in 2014, it is natural that the international community will be exceedingly sensitive about civilian casualties and the PKK can be expected to make a hybrid response to Turkey, not only through terrorist attacks but also media and social media campaigns,” Unluhisarcikli said.
According to Barin Kayaoglu, an assistant professor of world history at the American University of Iraq, a Sinjar operation was more likely after Afrin.
“It’s not clear how the federal government of Iraq or the KRG will respond to the Turkish government’s statement regarding Sinjar. But given the recent results of Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch, it would be prudent to take Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his administration at their word,” he told Arab News.
Should a Turkish operation in Sinjar proceed, it would need some co-ordination with Baghdad and Irbil, if not a joint operation with both, Kayaoglu said.
“(Co-ordination was) less likely with the KRG,” he said. “There’s much anger in the Kurdistan region of Iraq toward Turkey because of Olive Branch.”

Israeli troops arrest dozens in West Bank

Updated 55 min 27 sec ago

Israeli troops arrest dozens in West Bank

  • The arrests come in the wake of a pair of deadly shootings this week believed to have been carried out by Hamas activists
  • A Hamas official said some 70 members have been arrested this week, including about 40 overnight

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Israeli forces kept up a manhunt on Friday for a Palestinian who shot dead two soldiers in the occupied West Bank, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced right-wing pressure for a strong response.

Thursday’s shooting was the latest incident shattering months of relative calm in the West Bank, where 400,000 Israelis live in settlements alongside more than 2.5 million Palestinians.

It was the third deadly attack by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank in two months and set off demonstrations by settler groups against Netanyahu, whose right-wing government depends on their support.

Israeli media speculated on Friday about the possibility of a new Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising, against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

In Thursday’s attack, a gunman got out of his car and opened fire on soldiers and others outside a settlement in the central West Bank, killing two and seriously injuring another two Israelis before fleeing.

In response the army locked down the city of Ramallah, home to secular Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, while calling in reinforcements.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces erupted in different parts of the West Bank, including inside Ramallah during army raids.

Settlers shouting for revenge threw stones at Palestinian vehicles, while an Arab bus driver was beaten by ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Modiin Illit settlement, according to Israeli media reports.

In overnight raids, the army said it arrested 40 Palestinians, most of them affiliated to the Islamist movement Hamas which has claimed responsibility for two recent shooting attacks.

It has not yet claimed Thursday’s attack, though Israeli officials point the finger of blame in its direction.

The army did not say it had made arrests linked directly to the latest attack.

At a checkpoint near the Beit El settlement on Friday morning, a soldier was moderately wounded after a man hit him with a rock before fleeing, the army said.

Friday threatened to be another tense day with Palestinian movements, including Hamas, calling for protests in the West Bank after weekly prayers.

Israel has controlled the West Bank since seizing it in a 1967 war.

Settlements are considered illegal by the international community and are seen as one of the greatest obstacles to peace, though Israel disputes this. Hamas, for its part, has controlled the Gaza Strip since seizing it from Abbas’ forces in 2007.

While Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, Hamas cells still operate in the territory.

On Thursday, Hamas claimed responsibility for two shooting attacks that killed three Israelis, including a baby. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Thursday that the West Bank had “opened a new page” in the movement’s conflict with the Jewish state.

Netanyahu’s coalition government, which has only a one-seat majority in Parliament, relies on the support of pro-settler parties.

Right-wing protesters in Jerusalem late on Thursday booed Netanyahu, while an MP from the far-right Jewish Home urged him to close all West Bank roads to Palestinians or have “blood on his hands.”

Hugh Lovatt, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the situation was reminiscent to the buildup to the 2014 Gaza war.

“What adds further danger is that we are heading into elections in Israel in 2019, so Netanyahu will have to take a more forceful hand,” Lovatt told AFP.

“He has long run on his security credentials, saying he keeps Israel safe, and his only real challenge comes from the right.”

Netanyahu, whose Likud bloc heads the government, responded on Thursday by announcing new measures to support settlements, but Yediot Aharonot newspaper said he would need to respond forcefully.

“When the settler lobby raises an outcry, the Likud ministers break into a sweat,” it said.