The government of Turkey has warned that it is prepared for a ground invasion of northern Iraq if the Marxist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) does not vacate its camps in Sinjar. Turkey, present in Iraq against the wishes of Baghdad, has been training Kurdish Peshmerga militia units near Erbil, south of Sinjar.
The Peshmerga announced Tuesday they have reached the limits of the outskirts of Mosul, where they agreed to stop pushing into the city and allow the Iraqi military to take over liberating the city itself from the Islamic State.
The Peshmerga announcement follows a day of convoluted messaging from Turkey, which asserted its presence in the Mosul operation was at the behest of the Peshmerga, following a declaration by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım that the Peshmerga “asked for our help” to eradicate the Islamic State from the town of Bashiqa.
Turkish soldiers have for years helped train Peshmerga soldiers in the region, but Peshmerga leaders have denied that they requested help in actual military operations against the Islamic State there. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has also called his claim “baseless and untrue.”
Now the Turkish government is saying they will “help” eradicate the PKK, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, from Sinjar. The PKK and Peshmerga have long endured tensions, with the Peshmerga requesting that they leave the area.
“Unfortunately, PKK terrorists from different parts of Iraq have come to our country and organized attacks,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Tuesday.
He later added that the nature of the threat, PKK or otherwise, is irrelevant to the fact that Turkey is ready for a ground invasion in the region. “If there is a threat posed to Turkey, we are ready to use all our resources including a ground operation… to eliminate that threat,” he said in a TV interview.
“Iraq has become a country that is not being governed anymore. If the threat to us increases [there], we can deal with them using our rights under international law and our strength including a ground operation,” he added.
Turkish officials insist that the country must participate in the liberation of Mosul because it has taken in many Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and its location demands stability in Iraq. “We have a historical responsibility in the region,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted.
In addition to the stern rejections of a Turkish presence in Iraq by the Iraqi government, the government of Shiite neighbor Iran has also demanded Turkey vacate the region. “It is not acceptable at all if a country, under the pretext of combating terrorism or any other crimes, tries to violate the sovereignty” of Iraq, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Monday. Iran is a close ally of the Shiite government in Baghdad and is backing numerous Shiite militias in Iraq that operate independently of the government there.
The United States, meanwhile, has declared that Turkey and Iraq have reached some agreement to cooperate. “That will have to obviously be something that the Iraqi government will need to agree to and I think there’s agreement there in principle,” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said on Monday. “But now we’re down to the practicalities of that… and that’s what we’re working through.” Carter visited Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, over the weekend.
The future of the battle to retake Mosul, which Turkey has insisted on being a part of, is now uncertain as the Peshmerga have completed their objective of conquering the villages surrounding the city. The Kurdish outlet Rudaw has published a video showing Peshmerga bulldozers building a trench to mark the line that Baghdad has prohibited them from crossing. The rest of the operation will be in the hands of the Iraqi army, which previously failed to liberate Mosul after fleeing the battleground in March. The Peshmerga’s work is not done, however, as they must stay in the suburbs of Mosul to ensure that Islamic State jihadists do not flee the inner city and entrench themselves in its outskirts.