Erdogan threatens anti-PKK operation in Iraq’s disputed Sinjar

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a video conference in Istanbul, July 28, 2020. (Photo: Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a video conference in Istanbul, July 28, 2020. (Photo: Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday amid Turkish airstrikes in the Kurdistan Region targeting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that his military might launch a joint operation with the Iraqi government against the armed group in the disputed city of Sinjar (Shingal).

“Turkey is always ready to carry out joint operations against the PKK with Iraq but we cannot openly announce the date for such operations,” the president told journalists in Istanbul, reported the pro-Turkish government news website Daily Sabah.

“We may come there overnight, all of a sudden,” Erdogan added, choosing a phrase he also used before Turkey carried out cross-border operations in northeast Syria.

The PKK is fighting a decades-long conflict with Ankara over Kurdish rights in Turkey.

The statement came in response to a question on Sinjar from a reporter after Turkish airstrikes in the Kurdistan Region and a visit of the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar to Baghdad and Erbil last week.

On Friday, Turkish jets hit suspected targets of the PKK in the Kurdistan Region’s Haji Omran region along the Iranian border and in Duhok’s Chamanke district, along the Gara Mountains near the border of Turkey.

Haji Omran Mayor Abdulwahab Mahmoud told Kurdistan 24, “Turkish plans bombarded PKK fighters in the area of Mount Alan. During the bombing, 300 sheep were killed,” as well as two civilians injured.

In early October 2020, Iraq and the Kurdistan Region announced they had reached an agreement to restore and normalize the situation in Shingal, where competing armed groups are active, namely the PKK and Iranian-backed militias of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

The agreement involves understandings on security, civil administration, reconstruction and service rehabilitation, and the return of displaced civilians.

Read More: KRG and Baghdad reach administrative, security agreement on Sinjar

On Tuesday, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar reiterated the importance of “ousting militias and outlawed armed forces” in Yezidi(Ezidi)-majority Shingal and called for implementing the Sinjar Agreement.

In recent years, Turkey has carried out military operations against PKK fighters based in the Kurdistan Region with continued regularity, with troops sometimes crossing into the region up to 20 kilometers deep in some areas to target the guerilla group. Moreover, Turkish planes have carried out airstrikes in the Shingal region.

During the bombings, Ankara has killed dozens of civilians unaffiliated to the PKK since then and has caused extensive damage to farms and killed locals’ livestock.

In mid-June, Turkey launched ground and air operations – dubbed Claw-Tiger and Claw-Eagle – against alleged PKK positions inside the Kurdistan Region’s territory. In September 2020, Turkey announced the official end to the operation. However, airstrikes have continued in the Kurdistan Region.

“Rumors of an impending Turkish military operation against Sinjar in Northwest Iraq aren’t surprising. Erdogan has long called it “new Qandil”,” Nicholas Heras, of Washington’s Institute for the Study of War, told Kurdistan 24 on Saturday.

“He might be making the bet that an operation in Iraq, versus one in Syria, will not lead to a Biden team reaction.”

According to Yousif Ismael, Director of Policy and Media at the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI), “Turkey’s new threat is the first test for Biden’s administration in dealing with Erdogan’s anti-western rhetoric and regional expansionist policies.”

“I think Erdogan is now more limited in Syria due to Russia’s presence and Biden’s continuous public denouncement against the Turkish invasion in Syria,” he told Kurdistan 24. “However, Iraq is a different arena where Turkey is seeking a bargaining chip with the US before holding talks over several outstanding issues.”

Moreover, he added that Turkey is trying to take advantage of the “Biden administration’s priority and focus on the domestic issues at least for the first 100 days.”

However, he said an attack on Shingal will only complicate the situation with the reemergence of the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria.

Co-founder and former Executive Director of Ezidi rights organization Yazda, Murad Ismael, told Kurdistan 24 that the Ezidi’s in Shingal hope there won’t be any Turkish operation in Sinjar fearing it would hurt civililians that were victims of a genocide carried out by the Islamic State beginning in August 2014.

“We think the conscious world will stand against it,” he said. Instead, he proposed that all local groups in Sinjar should be integrated into a federal force.

“While I have no respect for Turkey. We don’t want Sinjar to be used against any country, including Turkey,” he added.

“Attacking any local Yezidi group will prolong the conflict and won’t fix the issue. The Yezidi community deserve a peaceful life with dignity, not shelling and air strikes. The Yezidis also are not in need to feed the PKK-Turkey conflict, which is not our fight,” he concluded.

Editing by John J. Catherine