Turkey begins large-scale operation in northern Iraq against Kurdish militants

Special Turkey begins large-scale operation in northern Iraq against Kurdish militants
Turkish soldiers conduct military exercises near the Habur crossing gate between Turkey and Iraq. (AFP/File)
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Updated 18 April 2022

Turkey begins large-scale operation in northern Iraq against Kurdish militants

Turkey begins large-scale operation in northern Iraq against Kurdish militants
  • Latest offensive likely to have repercussions in domestic politics in the eyes of nationalist voters, analyst tells Arab News
  • Special forces, elite commando units deployed for ‘Operation Claw Lock’

ANKARA: Turkey has begun the new week with the launch of a large-scale ground and aerial cross-border offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq.

Alongside artillery, T129B helicopters, drones and F-16 fighters, Turkey’s Special Forces and elite commando units were also deployed as part of the campaign that reportedly struck targets of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq’s Metina, Zap and Avashin-Basyan regions.

The cross-border action, named Operation Claw Lock, came a day after Turkey’s Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu said: “We will save Syria and Iraq from the hands of the US and Europe, and bring peace there.”

For Zaed Ismail, member of the scientific committee of the Istanbul-based Academy of International Relations, the operation is related to increased missile strikes against the Turkish base in Zilikan in Nineveh, and the PKK’s expansion in northern Iraq deep into Sinjar. It is also linked to recent political contact between Ankara and Irbil.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently met with Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government in Irbil.

Experts have noted that Sinjar is turning into an alternative headquarters for the PKK.

“The military operations began about a week after the visit of Barzani to ​​Ankara and it clearly indicated the existence of security coordination between Irbil and Ankara to launch the military operation,” Ismail said.

Ismail said the PKK “began posing an increased existential threat to the political stability of the entire geography of northern Iraq, with repeated missile attacks on Irbil Airport.”

The offensive was carried out in coordination with Turkey’s “friends and allies,” the Defense Ministry stated.

But, for Ismail, it is difficult to resolve the battle through airstrikes, unless the international conditions are created for a broad ground operation.

The operation, which began at midnight, was launched as Russia showed no letup in its invasion of Ukraine, while Turkey’s mediation role was welcomed by Western partners.

Both the US and the EU have already designated the PKK as a terror group.

Tuna Aygun, an Iraq expert at Ankara-based think tank ORSAM, said the latest operation took place as part of a previous offensive, but this time Turkey was targeting runaway elements of the PKK from the eastern and western parts of the region.

“The operation area (had been) a shelter for the PKK militants for some time. Especially since 2017, (the) PKK mostly concentrated its logistical and military strength in Iraq to hit targets in Turkey,” he told Arab News.

“By establishing temporary military bases, Turkey aims at establishing its control on the transit routes of the militants according to the geographical characteristics of the territory,” said Aygun.

However, it is still unclear how long the military operation will endure and whether the movements of the PKK militants will be restricted.

“It will not be a one-day operation. But with the increased use of armed drones during such offensives, these moves do not depend any longer on the clim(actic) conditions,” Aygun said. He added that Turkey’s latest operation has the support of Baghdad and Irbil because it is being seen as a way to stabilize a region where thousands of civilians were displaced in recent years due to the PKK’s presence.

Ahead of the upcoming elections next year, this operation is also likely to have domestic repercussions in Turkish politics in the eyes of nationalist voters, and used as a trump card against the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party.

Yerevan Saeed, research associate at the Arab Gulf Institute in Washington, said Turkey has been seeking to build a security zone inside the Kurdistan region for a number of years.

“The military operation appears to be deeper and more intense this year,” he told Arab News.

Its objectives are likely to include seizing control of strategic areas of Afashin, Matin, Khukuk and Zab. “(The) Turkish military has failed to control them in the past,” he added.

“If successful, Ankara will be able to separate Qandil mountains where PKK bases are located from (the) Rojava and Sinjar areas, (restricting the) PKK’s movements.”

Ali Semin, an expert on Iraqi politics from Nisantasi University in Istanbul, said the offensive is part of a series of operations since 2019 to create a buffer zone between its border with Northern Iraq and PKK-dominated areas.

“Ankara seems to seize the best political opportunity to expand its operation,” he told Arab News.

“The leadership in Baghdad and Irbil consider the latest activities of the PKK as an intervention (to) their political presence,” said Semin.

“Unlike the past operations of Turkey that were criticized by Iraqi authorities as a violation of their territorial sovereignty, Turkey’s current operation mostly (have) their backing,” said the expert.

Over the last three decades, Semin said, about 250 villages had been evacuated in northern Iraq. This was also where fighting in the past few years has intensified between Peshmerga forces loyal to the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the PKK.

According to Noah Ringler, an expert from Georgetown University, the offensive has received military support from the Turkish-aligned KDP Peshmerga and comes amid ongoing challenges with government formations in Baghdad, where Turkish officials now believe they have broad support from political parties for the operation.

“The goals of the operation likely include new Turkish operations posts closer to the PKK’s strategic strongholds near Qandil mountains, which holds political significance in Turkey, as well as disruption of PKK operations and influence in the region, and the strengthening of Kurdish and Iraqi political actors aligned with Turkey,” he told Arab News.

Experts also note that the success of such operations will also influence local dynamics in Syria.

“(The) Kurdish People’s Protection Units are mostly supported logistically and militarily by the PKK bases in Sinjar,” Semin said.

Baghdad and Irbil reached a security and administrative agreement on Sinjar on Oct. 9, 2020.

However, the agreement that called for the removal of PKK forces in the region has not been implemented yet.

“Turkey, together with Baghdad and Irbil, can be a facilitator to execute this agreement and turn the region into a secure zone where the Iraqi authorities regain control,” Semin said.

Lebanon rocked by deadly quake in Turkiye, Syria

Lebanon rocked by deadly quake in Turkiye, Syria
Updated 8 sec ago

Lebanon rocked by deadly quake in Turkiye, Syria

Lebanon rocked by deadly quake in Turkiye, Syria
  • Residents took to the streets and sheltered in cars as several aftershocks from the quake were felt during the day

BEIRUT: Parts of Lebanon on Monday were rocked by the deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit southern Turkiye and northern Syria, killing and injuring thousands of people.

Residents took to the streets and sheltered in cars as several aftershocks from the quake were felt during the day.

The National Council for Scientific Research’s National Center for Geophysics recorded a 4.8 magnitude tremor at 3:18 a.m. local time, which lasted for 40 seconds, followed by others.

Many buildings in Beirut, coastal cities, and all the way to the Bekaa Valley shook, but the Lebanese Red Cross reported no casualties apart from a few citizens who had suffered heart attacks.

The Lebanese Ministry of Education announced that all educational institutions should remain closed until Wednesday for the safety of students and staff, while traffic police urged citizens not to park vehicles near trees, billboards, or objects at risk of falling, and to keep away from beaches.

A team from the Civil Defense, Red Cross, and Beirut Fire Brigade was traveling to Turkiye to assist rescue workers.

Marilyne Brax, director of the National Center for Geophysics, said there was little chance of a tsunami.

“We were unable to scientifically monitor the movement of waves in Lebanon due to the loss of monitoring instruments in the sea, but in Cyprus and Turkiye, wave height movements recorded 20 centimeters.”

One resident of Ashrafieh, in Beirut, said: “I woke up to the bed shaking and objects falling on the floor. It was completely dark, so I used the flashlight on my phone to find my way out of my apartment.

“I could hear my neighbors crying as they came down the stairs. Everyone looked terrified. It was a horrific night. An earthquake is the last thing the Lebanese need right now.”

In Tripoli, northern Lebanon, young men fired shots into the air to urge people to leave buildings and private generators were turned on to provide light for frightened people.

Fatima, a resident of the southern suburbs of Beirut, said: “I already suffer from a phobia of earthquakes, and when I realized what was happening and heard walls cracking, I hurried out of the house into the street in the dark.

“My neighbors and their children and sick elderly were already in the streets praying.”

A nurse at Makassed Islamic Hospital in Beirut said the building had been designed to resist earthquakes.

“As soon as everyone calmed down, there was a strong aftershock, but we were able to continue our work about half-an-hour later.”

In the coastal city of Tyre, the earthquake caused cracks in a road, and a house in the Rashaya Al-Wadi area of southeastern Lebanon was reported to have collapsed.

But while encouraging citizens to evacuate any older buildings showing signs of collapse, Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister, Bassam Mawlawi, said there had been limited damage in the country.

Many buildings in Lebanon do not meet required safety specifications as they were constructed during the civil war.

Seismic activity is common in Lebanon. One of the worst quakes to hit the country was on March 16, 1956, in the Chouf, Jezzine, Sidon, and Bekaa areas. It claimed the lives of around 140 people and injured more than 600, in addition to destroying buildings, roads, and infrastructure.

Quake damages ancient citadel in Syria’s Aleppo

Quake damages ancient citadel in Syria’s Aleppo
Updated 3 min 4 sec ago

Quake damages ancient citadel in Syria’s Aleppo

Quake damages ancient citadel in Syria’s Aleppo
  • “Parts of the Ottoman mill inside the citadel” of Aleppo have collapsed, Syria’s Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums said

DAMASCUS: Several of Syria’s archaeological sites including a famed citadel in the northern city of Aleppo were damaged in a deadly pre-dawn earthquake Monday, the country’s antiquities authority said.
“Parts of the Ottoman mill inside the citadel” of Aleppo have collapsed, while “sections of the northeastern defensive walls have cracked and fallen,” Syria’s Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums said in a statement.
Parts of the dome of the minaret of the Ayyubid mosque inside the citadel fell off, while the entrance to the fort has been damaged, “including the entrance to the Mamluk tower,” it added, publishing photos of the site on its Facebook page.
More than 1,000 people were killed across Syria as buildings collapsed after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck neighboring Turkiye, state media and rescuers said.
At least 156 people died in Aleppo province alone and 507 were injured when 46 buildings collapsed, the official news agency SANA had said, quoting an official.
The city of Aleppo is renowned for its ancient citadel, its UNESCO-listed historic center and its centuries-old covered markets.
Aleppo was Syria’s pre-war commercial hub and considered one of the world’s longest continuously inhabited cities, boasting markets, mosques, caravanserais, and public baths, but a brutal siege imposed on rebels left it disfigured.
Even before the earthquake, buildings in Aleppo often collapsed due to poor infrastructure after more than a decade of war and little oversight to ensure the safety of new construction projects.
In Hama province, archaeological surveys found that “some buildings inside the ancient Al-Marqab Castle” in the city of Baniyas had been damaged, while parts of the fortifications and a tower had fallen, the antiquities body said.
In Tartus province, part of a rocky cliff fell in the vicinity of the Qadmus castle, and residential buildings on the site collapsed, it added.
Expert teams were reportedly assessing the damage, and whether the earthquake had affected the ancient city of Palmyra.
The pre-dawn quake hit near Gaziantep in southeastern Turkiye at a depth of about 18 kilometers (11 miles), the US Geological Survey said.
Tremors were also felt in Lebanon and Cyprus, AFP correspondents said.

Israel says approved aid to quake-hit Syria, Damascus denies request

Syrian rescue teams search for victims and survivors in the city of Hama on February 6, 2023. (AFP)
Syrian rescue teams search for victims and survivors in the city of Hama on February 6, 2023. (AFP)
Updated 06 February 2023

Israel says approved aid to quake-hit Syria, Damascus denies request

Syrian rescue teams search for victims and survivors in the city of Hama on February 6, 2023. (AFP)
  • Israel “received a request from a diplomatic source for humanitarian aid to Syria, and I approved it”: Netanyahu
  • Syrian official told reporters Damascus “ridiculed and denied the allegations” it had requested aid from Israel

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had given the go-ahead to send aid to earthquake-hit Syria, but a Damascus official swiftly denied they had requested help in the first place.
Israel “received a request from a diplomatic source for humanitarian aid to Syria, and I approved it,” Netanyahu told lawmakers from his hawkish Likud party, adding the aid would be sent soon.
But a Syrian official told reporters Damascus “ridiculed and denied the allegations” that it had requested aid from Israel.
“How can Syria ask for help from an entity that has killed... Syrians for decades?” said the official.
Syria’s government does not recognize Israel and the two countries have fought several wars since Israel’s creation in 1948.
Netanyahu’s office declined to provide further details on the source of the request to help Syria, where hundreds of people were killed by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake Monday in neighboring Turkiye.
The Israeli leader has also confirmed his government would send humanitarian assistance to Turkiye following the disaster.
Israel’s foreign ministry said a team of search and rescue specialists would leave for Turkiye on Monday, and that another delegation equipped with humanitarian supplies would follow on Tuesday.

Egypt offers condolences, aid to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria

Egypt offers condolences, aid to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria
Updated 06 February 2023

Egypt offers condolences, aid to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria

Egypt offers condolences, aid to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria

CAIRO: Egypt has joined countries around the world offering condolences and aid to Turkiye and Syria after a huge earthquake reportedly claimed the lives of around 1,900 people.

Wishing a speedy recovery for the thousands injured the Egyptian government said it was ready to help Turkiye, Syria and other eastern Mediterranean nations hit by the quake.

In a statement, Cairo passed on its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and the Turkish and Syrian people.

‘Buildings folded like paper towels’: Turkish survivors recount harrowing quake experiences 

‘Buildings folded like paper towels’: Turkish survivors recount harrowing quake experiences 
Updated 06 February 2023

‘Buildings folded like paper towels’: Turkish survivors recount harrowing quake experiences 

‘Buildings folded like paper towels’: Turkish survivors recount harrowing quake experiences 
  • “It was the strongest earthquake I’ve ever experienced,” Iskenderun resident tells Arab News
  • Death toll exceeds 1,500 as Turkiye activates level 4 alert state

ANKARA:Turkish survivors of one of the Middle East’s most devastating earthquakes in decades have relayed their harrowing experiences of surviving the disaster, which left buildings “folding like paper towels.”
Berjin and her cousin Rojhat, who were holidaying in Turkiye’s southeastern province of Diyarbakir, were about to return to their hometown, Van, in the country’s east, before the quake struck.
But early on Monday, the shockwave destroyed the building where Rojhat, a local football player, was sleeping. After emergency services arrived to rescue people from the rubble, Berjin waited for hours in front of the collapsed building in a distraught state.
After Rojhat was rescued, the two returned to Van, where an aftershock struck later in the day. “Please stop, it is such a strong quake, please stop,” Berjin cried in a video capturing lights and furniture shaking in her home.
Berjin, interviewed by Arab News, was was left waiting outside her destroyed home in minus 15 degrees Celsius temperatures after the second quake. The building was one of many in the city that had yet to be renovated following a 2011 earthquake, which killed hundreds of people.

Rescue workers search for survivors under the rubble following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Reuters)

Turkiye began the new week with a devastating and deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake — one of the most powerful to hit the region in decades — killing more than 1,500 people in the country and in neighhboring Syria. About 3,000 buildings were destroyed.
The quake struck just after 4 a.m. Monday morning local time, 23 km east of Nurdagi, Gaziantep province, at a depth of 24.1 km, according to data from the US Geological Survey.
The earthquake also devastated parts of Syria, claiming hundreds of lives in the country. Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Egypt were also affected.
There was another 7.5-magnitude earthquake at noon on Monday, with the epicenter recorded near Turkiye’s southeastern Kahramanmaras province.
A hospital in southeastern Sanliurfa province was completely destroyed by the earthquake, with many patients left trapped under rubble.
Turkiye stopped oil flow to the southern Ceyhan export terminal as a precaution.

People search through rubble following an earthquake in Adana, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Reuters)

Ozcan Karakoc, a teacher at a state-run school in Diyarbakir, immediately ran to his school building once he felt the quake.
He was involved in assisting survivors next to the school, providing blankets and food to those rescued from nearby buildings.
The school is in Baglar district, one of the most-affected areas in Diyarbakir and also one of the poorest.
“I live in Seyrantepe district of Diyarbakir where buildings were relatively new and we didn’t have so much damage inside the houses. But the building next to our school was about an eight-story old building where more than 200 people were living. It folded like a paper tower in seconds,” Karakoc told Arab News.
He now anxiously awaits news from his students, with many living in run-down housing in Baglar.
After the quakes, the streets of Diyarbakir filled with people, including children, dressed in pajamas in the freezing weather.

Rescuers work at the site of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Adana, Turkey February 6, 2023. (Reuters)

Berrak Demirel, another resident in Diyarbakir, was sleeping when the earthquake struck the city.
She ran out of her home with her husband and children when the second quake ended.
“We stayed long hours outside, but had to come back home due to the freezing weather conditions in the city,” she told Arab News.
Turkish armed forces set up an air aid corridor in the earthquake zone.
Misel Uyar, a resident of Iskenderun, a town in southern Hatay provice, said that a hospital in the area was destroyed in the quake, with health workers and patients inside.
Several new buildings collapsed despite having supposedly been built to modern standards, he added.
Iskenderun port was also damaged during the quake.
“It was the strongest earthquake I’ve ever experienced,” Uyar told Arab News, adding that many of the town’s older buildings were destroyed in the quake.
“Another old building, just some meters away from my house, also collapsed, with several people dying inside.
“All our churches in the region were completely destroyed. The policeman guarding the Orthodox Church died as well because of a stone hitting his body. People took shelter in cars due to the fear of the aftershocks,” said Uyar.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party deputy Ali Oztunc, from Kahramanmaras province, was present in the quake zone during an interview with Arab News.
“All our local municipalities and AFAD, the disaster agency, are currently collaborating to rescue people and provide them with urgent needs,” he said.
“The 500-year-old unbreakable East Anatolian Fault passes beneath this city. We had urged the authorities several times in the past to take necessary precautions regarding the buildings.”
The need to build quake-resilient cities has been a top agenda in Turkiye for years, with prominent scientists warning authorities to take urgent measures.
About 18,000 people in Turkiye were killed in 1999 in a 7.4 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Marmara region.
Another earthquake that hit the country in 1939 killed about 33,000 people.
Renate Cavdar, a music teacher in southeastern Gaziantep province, was surprised at the severity of the quake.
“It was felt so strongly. Several roads are blocked because they were damaged by the earthquake, and bulldozers have to clear the debris to open the passage,” she told Arab News.
“In Islahiye district, a building where an old relative was living collapsed. We are now trying to reach the area to get information from her,” Cavdar said.
According to the latest reports, several local politicians were killed in the region, which is also home to millions of Syrian refugees.
In the southeastern province of Adiyaman, a municipality building collapsed.
The campuses of some local universities were opened to host survivors.
Niyazi Buluter, a civil society activist for the Roma community in Gaziantep, lost six relatives in the quake, including children.
“I have been informed that some family died as the old building they were residing collapsed in seconds during the quake. Low-income people were residing in this district,” said Buluter.
“Several buildings also collapsed in our area. There were some cracks in our one-story house. But we couldn’t stand during the quake. It was so strong. I have a disabled child; I took him in my arms and ran out of the house quickly. May God protect poor people.”
Volkan Demirel, technical director of Hatayspor football team, appealed for humanitarian assistance in an emotional video posted on social media.
Several countries expressed solidarity with Turkiye after Monday’s earthquake.
“I have been in touch with Turkish officials to relay that we stand ready to provide any and all needed assistance,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Twitter.
“We will continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with Turkiye,” he added.
Having declared a level four alert state, Turkiye also requested international help through the Emergency Response Coordination Center, the EU’s civil protection program. In response, 45 countries offered to help in search and rescue efforts.
“We express our solidarity and sympathy to our brothers in Syria and Turkiye following the earthquake,” said Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry.