Turkey vows to remain in northern Iraq until end of all terror groups

With a large Kurdish population of its own, concentrated in the southeast, Ankara has long resisted Kurdish ambitions for independence in Iraq, Syria or Iran. (File/Getty Images)
Updated 12 June 2018
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Turkey vows to remain in northern Iraq until end of all terror groups

  • The Turkish military has ramped up airstrikes in northern Iraq targeting Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases in Qandil
  • Canikli said Turkey was also in full agreement with Baghdad on a potential operation into Qandil

ANKARA: Turkey will remain in northern Iraq until all terrorist groups are removed, Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Tuesday amid increasing government warnings of a military operation against Kurdish militants based in the Qandil mountains.

Speaking at a roundtable interview with the state-run Anadolu news agency, Canikli also said Turkey had offered to carry out a potential operation into Qandil with Iran, who has voiced support for the offensive. 

There was no immediate confirmation of his assertion from Tehran.

The Turkish military has ramped up airstrikes in northern Iraq targeting Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases in Qandil, close to the Iraq-Iran border, where high-ranking members of the militant group are thought to be located.

The government has also said Turkish troops have deployed roughly 30 km (nearly 20 miles) inside northern Iraq, not far from Qandil.

Canikli said Turkey was also in full agreement with Baghdad on a potential operation into Qandil, adding that Ankara was in talks with “all possible countries” on the matter.

Iraq, however, said it would not accept any Turkish operation against Qandil or other PKK strongholds.

“The Iraqi government will not accept any advance on its land by Turkish forces in pursuit of the PKK elements currently present in the Sinjar, Makhmour and Qandil mountains,” Saad Al-Hadithi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi told the Iraqi News Agency.

He added that the Iraqi government would “absolutely not allow” any aggression from inside its land against Turkey or other states.

Canikli, however, said there were “serious attacks and infiltration” into Turkey from Qandil, and that Turkey would remain in northern Iraq until all terrorists groups were removed. 

With a large Kurdish population of its own, concentrated in the southeast, Ankara has long resisted Kurdish ambitions for independence in Iraq, Syria or Iran, fearing it could inflame separatism inside Turkey.

An offensive against the PKK in Qandil would mark Turkey’s third cross-border operation since 2016, with the first two targeting Kurdish militia fighters in northern Syria.

Last week, Turkey and the US also endorsed a roadmap for the withdrawal of the Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization linked to the PKK, from the northern Syrian city of Manbij.

US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told Pentagon reporters that Turkish and US officials would meet in Germany this week to discuss the details of the roadmap, namely joint patrols inside Manbij to secure the region.

Canikli also said officials would discuss the Manbij roadmap during talks in Germany this week.

Analysts say that a major operation against the PKK in northern Iraq would give Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a welcome boost in the snap polls, which are expected to be tighter than initially predicted.

But an extensive ground operation would also be fraught with risk, given the complex mountainous terrain of the Qandil region, which is well known to the PKK but not the Turkish army.

Outlawed by Ankara and its Western allies, the PKK has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, and the army is battling the group’s militants both inside Turkey and in northern Iraq.


Iran must stop supporting militias for peace offer to be taken seriously: Expert 

Updated 26 May 2019
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Iran must stop supporting militias for peace offer to be taken seriously: Expert 

  • Iran has for long pursued a policy of outsourcing its meddling to external militias
  • Among these are the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen

JEDDAH: Iran needs to dismantle its proxies and end its interventions in Arab affairs before seeking to normalize relations with its Gulf neighbors, a political expert told Arab News on Sunday.

“The Gulf countries have been calling for normal relations with their neighbors for years, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears on the Iranian side,” Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar, said.

Accusing Tehran of “playing games,” Al-Shehri described Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s suggestion that Iran wanted to improve relations with its Gulf neighbors as worthless “as long as it continues meddling in the affairs of other countries, and fails to halt its evil militias from sabotaging and destabilizing regional security.”

Iran has for long pursued a policy of outsourcing its meddling to external militias, which indirectly supports, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. 

Zarif, who is on a two-day visit to Iraq, told a joint news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Al-Hakim that Iran wants to build balanced relations with its Gulf Arab neighbors and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.

However, Al-Shehri said that Tehran needs to address three key issues — its nuclear program; its terrorist militias, which have been spreading chaos in the Gulf region and beyond; and its ballistic missile program — before making any such proposals.

“The question is, would Iran be ready to give up all three files? If they want their neighbors to accept them and normalize relations with them, they have to be honest and stop playing games,” he said.

Al-Shehri described Zarif’s regional tour as an attempt to rally support and send a false message that Iran has friends and allies who would stand by them in their crisis with the US.

“Where were these countries when Iran’s terrorist proxies in Yemen, the Houthi militias, launched missiles and drones attacking the holiest Islamic site in Makkah and other Saudi facilities?” Al-Shehri asked.

Zarif said Iran will defend itself against any military or economic aggression, calling on European states to do more to preserve a nuclear agreement his country signed.

“We will defend (ourselves) against any war efforts, whether it be an economic war or a military one, and we will face these efforts with strength,” he said.

Strains have increased between Iran and the US following this month’s sabotage attack on oil tankers in the Gulf. Washington and other regional allies have concluded that Iran is most likely behind the attacks. 

Tehran has distanced itself from the bombings, but the US has sent an aircraft carrier and extra 1,500 troops to the Gulf, sparking concerns over the risk of conflict in the volatile region.