According to the Kurdish Rudaw news agency, Turkish airstrikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets destroyed a health clinic in the Amediye district of Duhok. The clinic is said to have serviced several nearby villages. No casualties were reported.
The Turkish air campaign against the PKK appears to be ramping up, with some sources reporting up to 30 Turkish F-16s involved in an air campaign that has killed nearly 200 Kurdish militants. Rudaw describes the bombing that destroyed the clinic as part of “a string of air raids on PKK sites in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan since Friday,” with three different strikes on Amediye on Thursday.
The much-heralded Turkish decision to get tough with ISIS seems to be turning into a sustained campaign against the Kurds. “In Turkey’s Kurdish heartland, the government’s renewed military onslaught against the rebels has left many people crying treachery — with suspicions rife that Turkey used a brief offensive against IS as a cover to launch a broad attack against the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK,” reports the New York Post.
“Many Kurds also are venting frustration against the United States, accusing Washington of turning a blind eye to Turkish attacks on the Kurds in exchange for logistical support on IS,” the report adds, quoting Kurds who see the alignment between Anakara and Washington as the latest in a long series of betrayals, and say there is growing distrust among Kurds for both Turkey and the United States.
One Kurdish mayor said her constituents think Turkey essentially bribed the Americans to look the other way by allowing them to use Turkish air bases against ISIS. Other Kurdish activists think Turkish politicians are cracking down on the PKK to make the ruling party look better in advance of possible November parliamentary elections.
For their part, the Turks view the PKK as a terrorist organization they have a right to defend themselves against, citing recent attacks by militants. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government have been investigating pro-Kurdish opposition leaders and trying to link them to separatist violence, looking for support not just among the Turkish electorate in general, but also from conservative Turkish Kurds wary of the PKK.
Writing at the Wall Street Journal, Cornell University’s director of Ottoman and Turkish Studies, Mostafa Minawi, agrees with the notion that Turkey is largely using the threat of ISIS to justify a crackdown on the PKK… and from there, perhaps a further suppression of less radical Kurdish politicians under a state of national emergency. It has been noticed that the Turkish government tends to lump arrests of ISIS operatives, PKK militants, and even other dissident groups together into lump sums for the media… but very few of the suspects included in that lump are from ISIS.
Minawi notes this gambit could lead to a dangerous degree of resentment among the broader Kurdish population, which has been doing the heavy lifting in ground combat against ISIS, and will not appreciate learning that Turkey’s new anti-ISIS air campaign mostly involves dropping bombs on fellow Kurds. Also, the PKK might very well oblige Erdogan’s appetite for politically useful civil strife, which could easily spiral out of hand.
“Turkish government efforts to manufacture a state of emergency and to force Western nations to accept war against the Kurds in exchange for military and tactical support against ISIS could come at a high cost in lives and treasure,” Minawi concludes. “Another problem with this gamble? It doesn’t account for the volatility of war and the unpredictability of terror.”
Kurdish critics of the Erdogan government are also feeling validated in their long-running suspicion that Turkey has been cooperating with ISIS to some degree. “The border has been exceptionally quiet, which is a major indicator, for me, that the AKP [Erdogan’s party] had intelligence ties to ISIS,” Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told Business Insider. It is more than just an inference, as the article goes on to note that documentary evidence of dealings between Turkish officials and high-level ISIS members has been uncovered by American special forces.
Business Insider also details direct links from the PKK to some of the most effective front-line Kurdish forces battling ISIS in Syria and Iraq, along with clear signs of Turkish anxiety about how Kurdish military success against the Islamic State increase the danger of new, independent Kurdish nation sprawling between all three countries.
Using the threat of ISIS to pre-emptively neutralize what it views as the even more serious threat of Greater Kurdistan leaves Turkey playing what Schanzer calls a “dangerous game.” It’s not just dangerous for Turkey, because President Obama’s weak, disorganized war plan against ISIS has been entirely dependent on Kurdish fighting spirit and “boots on the ground.”