Turkey’s defense minister reportedly claimed Tuesday that Iran supports a new phase in Ankara’s operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) that would see Turkish troops combat the Kurds in their northern Iraq-based stronghold.
Reuters and other news outlets, including pro-Iranian-allied Syrian regime agencies, acknowledge that Tehran has not yet officially confirmed nor denied its support for Ankara’s operation against the PKK in the territory in northern Iraq controlled by the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), considered a Turkish ally.
PKK fighters, who have been fighting an insurgency in Turkey for decades, maintain a significant stronghold in Kurdish-held northern Iraq’s Qandil Mountains regions, which borders Iran and Turkey.
Kurdish news outlet Rudaw notes: “KRG officials have called on the PKK to withdraw in order to protect the civilian population. A group of opposition lawmakers called on the Kurdistan Region parliament to convene in order to condemn Turkey’s offensive [to no avail].”
Rudaw points out that Turkey has already begun bombing PKK targets inside KRG territory.
In late March, Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of State (DOS), told Kurdistan 24, “Any operations in Iraq that Turkey might carry out should be done with the approval of the Iraqi government.”
Baghdad says it has not given its blessing to Turkey’s new offensive against the PKK.
“The Iraqi government will not accept any advance on its land by Turkish forces in pursuit of the PKK elements currently present in the Sinjar, Makhmour and Qandil mountains,” Saad Al Hadithi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, told the Iraqi News Agency on Tuesday.
Baghdad’s denial of approval did come with a major caveat — the PM spokesman added that the Iraqi government would “absolutely not allow” any aggression from inside its land against Turkey or other states.
On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that Ankara would drain the “terror swamp” from the Qandil region of Iraq’s northern semi-autonomous territory controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Turkish Defense Minister Canikli told the state-owned Anadolu Agency (AA) that there have been “serious attacks and infiltration” into Turkey from Qandil and that Ankara would keep its troops in northern Iraq “until terror is completely removed.”
On June 5, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed Ankara was engaged in discussions on its ongoing operation in northern Iraq with the United States, Baghdad, and the KRG, stressing the need of joining forces against the group.
“There will be a four-way cooperation between Turkey, the U.S., Baghdad and [the KRG] because the PKK is also the enemy of [the KRG],” the foreign minister declared.
Turkey’s new operation would mark the third cross-border offensive since 2016, with the first two targeting the U.S.-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) considered an extension of the PKK by Ankara.
“Fortification [in northern Iraq] has reached a certain level in base areas. Now we have a different target, which is totally removing terrorism here. We will stay in northern Iraq,” Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli told AA, referring to the ongoing offensive.
Canikli also noted that Iran voiced support for what the operation, which is taking place along their mutual border in northern Iraq.
“Our offer to Iran was to carry out the operation together. Iran, in its remarks at least, has voiced very important support,” Canikli told AA.
Early this month, Breitbart News reported that Turkey has been intensifying its activities against the PKK in northern Iraq, already setting up 11 regional bases and doubling its military footprint.
“The [Ankara] government has also said Turkish troops have deployed roughly 30 km (nearly 20 miles) inside northern Iraq, not far from Qandil,” Reuters reports.
America’s ongoing support for the PKK-affiliated Kurdish YPG that control swathes of northern Syria has infuriated Turkey.
The United States, Turkey, and some of their NATO allies have declared the PKK a terrorist group.
In an unlikely alliance, Turkey joined Iran, the United States, and other countries in opposing independence efforts by the Iraqi Kurds last October.
Turkey and Iran fear the Kurds within their borders will band together to form their own country, a desire officially expressed by the KRG in a referendum last year that prompted Iran-backed military retaliation from Baghdad.
Despite overwhelming support for an independence referendum held in October 2017, Iraqi Kurdistan remains a semi-autonomous Iraqi region.
Turkey has been threatening to expand its anti-Kurdish offensive from northern Syria into Iraq for months.
Last week, DOS confirmed that it reached an agreement with Turkey to pull the American-allied Kurdish YPG from the northern Syrian city of Manbij, arguing that the move will “reduce tensions.”