Turkey has launched a major military surge against the terrorist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, where Ankara has already set up 11 regional bases and doubled its military footprint, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim declared over the weekend.
The semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government controls most of northern Iraq, including the Qandil Mountains, believed to be the PKK’s main stronghold.
Turkey has carried out cross-border operations against the PKK in northern Iraq in the past.
Now, it appears Turkey is preparing to launch a major offensive against the PKK fighters, considered to be terrorists by Ankara and Washington.
PM Yildirim threatened to target the PKK again over the weekend, the Associated Press (AP) reports.
The Turkish prime minister proclaimed that the objective of the military operations in northern Iraq is to “eliminate the terrorist threat of the PKK before it reaches the border,” Hurriyet Daily News reports.
“We have doubled our [military] presence in northern Iraq,” he added without providing a specific number. “We have 11 regional bases there.”
Turkey has long justified its military presence in Iraq as a preventive measure against the PKK.
The PKK maintains a significant stronghold in northern Iraq’s Qandil mountains, located near the Iran border.
“Qandil is not a distant target for us anymore. Right now, a lot of positions have been seized there [by Turkish forces], especially in the northern Iraq region,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman told the state-run Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.
He added,“Timing is what is important for us right now. … Qandil will be made a safe place for Turkey, no one should doubt that.”
Since 1984, PKK terrorists have been waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey that has left tens of thousands dead.
Baghdad has long opposed Turkey’s military efforts in Iraq,
There have been conflicting reports on whether Baghdad has agreed to carry out joint operations with Ankara on Iraqi soil.
Although Baghdad appeared to have finally relented in March, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Iraqi minister of foreign affairs, denied Turkey’s assertion that Baghdad had agreed to allow Ankara to chase the PKK into Iraq.
“No country can intervene in the internal affairs of Iraq. Turkey cannot cross the Iraqi borders, besides it should withdraw its army from Bashiqa in Nineveh,” al-Jaafari declared, Bas News reported in March.
The PKK is also known to operate in the Yazidi-majority Sinjar region in Nineveh province.
Baghdad seized Sinjar from the KRG in retaliation for the independence referendum overwhelmingly approved by the Kurds in October 2017.
The PKK defended the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi from the Islamic State’s (ISIS/ISIL) genocide campaign in Iraq.
Amid Turkey’s threat to attack the PKK in Sinjar back in March, the Kurdish terrorist group announced that it was withdrawing from the region.
However, the PKK likely retains influence and at least a partial foothold in the Nineveh province via proxies via proxies like the Sinjar Protection Units (YBS), which it helped create and trained to combat ISIS.
After defeating the U.S.-allied People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria’s Afrin region, Turkey vowed to expand its aggressive military operation to other Kurdish-held, including Iraq.