ANKARA: Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s recent visit to Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan has sparked speculation about an imminent joint military operation between Ankara, Baghdad and Irbil inside the Iraqi territory against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
On Friday, Turkey’s President Erdogan hinted at the looming operation against PKK in Iraq’s Sinjar, saying, “We can come suddenly one night,” using the same sentence he used during previous Syria offensives.
Ankara’s military action against the PKK in summertime both from air and ground was widely condemned by Baghdad because of the aerial bombardment of the border villages and the death of two senior Iraqi border officials. Both sides had to spend months on restoring good terms.
Since the early 1990s, Turkey has conducted several cross-border operations against the PKK in northern Iraq after its military targets were hit from PKK’s Iraqi bases.
On Monday, Akar visited Baghdad and met Iraqi officials before heading to Irbil where he talked with Kurdish officials, including Kurdistan Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani on Tuesday.
Ankara is aiming to conduct an extensive offensive in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar to target hideouts of the PKK, but this time on a tripartite basis rather than a go-it-alone one.
This issue was also raised during Akar’s meeting with Iraqi officials. Akar told Anadolu Agency that Baghdad pledged to remove the terrorists from Sinjar soon, while Turkey was also ready to assist it to do so if asked.
The Turkish defense chief also said they would maintain “mutual exchange of information and form suitable mechanisms to exchange information.”
He also thanked Irbil and Baghdad for their assumed disposition to exchange information on the PKK.
To secure its strategic interests, Turkey also intends to build more temporary military bases in northern Iraq in addition to the existing 10 in the region.
Yerevan Saeed, a Washington-based Middle Eastern affairs analyst, thinks that this could indicate preparations for massive military operations by Turkey in spring.
“At the moment, the weather and the topography are too treacherous for any successful military actions,” he told Arab News.
In the past, the PKK has often blamed the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for sharing intelligence reports with Ankara about the group’s location and moves in the region, although the KDP, which is opposed to the presence of the PKK in northern Iraq, has firmly denied these allegations.
The KRG faces a balancing act because on one hand it refuses Ankara’s request for joining forces against the PKK, while on the other it has concerns about any intra-Kurdish fighting in the region.
PKK-affiliated groups, namely the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) that fought Daesh in Sinjar in 2014, are still active in the area, especially around Mount Sinjar and its surrounding areas. Ankara has targeted YBS’s members several times in the past.
While the PKK is listed as a terrorist movement by Washington, the YBS is not.