Turkey Announces Ground Invasion of Northern Iraq

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is battling not to be the biggest loser from the Idlib campaign
TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/AFP/File Mustafa Kamaci

The government of Turkey announced on Wednesday the launch of Operation Claw-Tiger, a commando ground invasion of northern Iraq to eliminate members and allies of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The announcement followed the debut Monday of Operation Claw-Eagle, a series of airstrikes on vulnerable parts of northern Iraq believed to house PKK members and sympathizers.

The PKK is a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist organization attempting to establish an independent Kurdish state. The PKK and its affiliates have been responsible for several terrorist attacks in Turkey within the past decade, most targeting Turkish soldiers and police. Outside of Turkey, the PKK has been active in fighting radical jihadists in Iraq, particularly the Islamic State. Members of the Yazidi ethno-religious minority of Iraq have allowed the PKK to stay in their native Sinjar for years after members of the group fought off ISIS terrorists attempting to commit genocide against the Yazidis in 2014.

The Iraqi government, which has limited authority in the nation’s northern Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)-controlled areas, has expressed disapproval of Turkey’s invasion. The KRG itself, which has an adversarial relationship with the PKK and has attempted to maintain friendly ties with Turkey, has not at press time made any definitive statements on the operation, but its finance minister began the week urging deeper economic cooperation with Ankara.

“Operation Claw-Tiger is being carried out as part of our legitimate defense rights arising from international law oriented against the PKK and other terrorist elements that have recently attempted increased harassment and attacks on our police station and base areas,” a statement from Turkey’s National Defense Ministry read on Wednesday, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Anadolu added that Turkish “commando forces” had entered the Haftanin region of Iraq, on the border with Turkey, to “neutralize” PKK and “other terrorist elements.” Turkey uses the word “neutralize” as a vague indicator that an individual has been killed, chronically wounded, or arrested and otherwise rendered incapable of attack.

Bas News, a Kurdish news outlet that operates out of the KRG, described Operation Claw-Tiger as a “large-scale ground operation.” Later on Wednesday, Anadolu updated that the Turkish ground troops, with air support, destroyed “over 150 targets” allegedly manned by PKK units.

“You have always shown the power of the Turkish commando, we believe that you will show it once again in those mountains today, and make history as you did before,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said following the operation.

The Firat News Agency, associated with the PKK, has offered few details at press time about the attack other than calling it a “black operation,” according to the Kurdish news service Rudaw. Rudaw reported that civilian leaders on the ground in Haftanin are alarmed by the sudden attack and prevented from helping rebuild communities that have suffered as a result of the prolonged existence of the Islamic State “caliphate” in Iraq.

“Because of the PKK-Turkey conflict, there are many villages where we cannot go to, to construct and extend services to them,” the mayor of Batifa, Haftanin, who Rudaw only identified as “Abdulsatar,” told the publication.

Operation Claw-Tiger appears to be the ground companion of Operation Claw-Eagle, a bombing campaign launched on Monday. Claw-Eagle, Turkey’s Defense Ministry announced Monday, would target PKK-controlled areas throughout northern Iraq with air bombardments. Among the areas Ankara targeted was the region of Sinjar, home to Iraq’s indigenous Yazidis, still struggling to recover from the ISIS genocide that left Sinjar city and much of the region in ruins.

The PKK established a base in Sinjar by fighting on behalf of the Yazidis against ISIS and claim to be helping the Yazidis develop their own fighting forces, the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), to prevent another massacre.

Ankara announced that it had destroyed at least 81 targets throughout northern Iraq on Monday, among which the PKK claimed were a hospital and a refugee camp.

“Turkey carries out airstrikes at significant times for the Yezidis (always on holidays, commemoration days) and close to refugee camps,” Hayrî Demir, the editor-in-chief of EzidiPress, told Kurdistan 24 following the strikes. “This shows that Turkey has no interest in peace in the region, but wants to keep the region as a war zone both to use the pretext of fighting the PKK/YBS for airstrikes and to prevent the Yezidis from returning to their homeland and building a normal life for themselves.”

Nadia Murad, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning Yazidi activist, noted this week that Sinjar had just welcomed back “over 150 Yezidi families” seeking to rebuild the city before the airstrikes began.

“When will the Iraqi government and the international community apply some courage and political will to resolving security challenges in Sinjar?” she asked.

Iraq’s Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador in the country on Tuesday following two consecutive days of bombings. During the summoning, the ministry offered the ambassador a letter detailing “the Iraqi government condemnation of violations of the sanctity and sovereignty of Iraq and the Iraqi airspace,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry’s statement condemned the strikes as “contraven[ing] international conventions, relevant rules of international law, friendship relations, principles of good-neighbourliness and mutual respect.”

“In the letter, the Ministry reiterated its call to neighboring Turkey to stop unilateral military operations, and expressed the Iraqi government readiness for joint cooperation in controlling border security in a manner that secures the interests of both sides,” the ministry concluded.

Rudaw noted it was the second time in as many months that Baghdad has summoned the Turkish ambassador for violating the country’s sovereignty with airstrikes.

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