Baghdad’s condemnation of Ankara’s latest operation is out of step with reality.
On April 18, the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) launched Claw-Lock, its latest military operation in northern Iraq, as part of its ongoing series of operations to eliminate the PKK. Tens of terrorists have been killed in the mountainous region, which is home to several PKK strongholds, including the headquarters of the terror organisation.
Besides clearing the region from terrorists, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also hinted at Ankara’s aim to “crush” the PKK’s leadership through operations. Soon after his speech, PKK co-leader Duran Kalkan threatened to spread fighting into cities. Indeed, a bus carrying prison officers was bombed by PKK affiliates in the city of Bursa, killing a guard and wounding four others just two days after the start of the counterterrorism operation. Another bomb exploded in Istanbul on April 21, targeting a youth foundation’s building.
While the PKK and its affiliates were not able to maintain attacks in cities thanks to the efforts of the Turkish police, there is still a chance for further attempts.
The official rhetoric of the Iraqi government and the Arab League has been critical of Türkiye’s latest cross-border operation, arguing that it violates Iraq’s security and sovereignty.
Yet these statements show a misplaced critique on the part of those parties. Ankara’s operations work to save lives in both Türkiye and Iraq from the terrorist threat in the Qandil Mountains and ultimately support, not hurt, Iraq’s sovereignty.
Turkish authorities have repeatedly underlined that Ankara’s actions are in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter, which gives the right to use self-defensive measures in case of armed attacks. In addition, bilateral agreements between Türkiye and Iraq allow the former to conduct anti-terror operations on the latter’s territories.
The PKK has launched countless attacks from Qandil Mountains, killing thousands of Turkish security staff and civilians. The attacks on Turkish lands are conducted with orders sent via radio and other methods from Iraq.
The TAF cross-border preventive measures have been so effective that the number of armed PKK terrorists in the mountains has fallen below 200. The terror group has moved outside Türkiye and rarely conducts attacks in the country. Turkish territories have never been so secure in terms of terrorist attacks. If TAF simply waited at the border, casualties would be much higher.
Breaking down anti-operation arguments
Turkish military bases and operations conducted in Iraq only target the terrorist organisation. If Türkiye really intended to violate Iraq’s sovereignty or occupy its territory, it would not focus on the treacherous terrain of the Qandil Mountains.
Furthermore, the Turkish army never assaulted or targeted Iraqi troops.
It is not the Turkish army but the PKK — which aims to control the north of the country per its goal of creating an independent state — that is a threat to Iraq’s sovereignty. Ultimately, Türkiye’s operations against the PKK help Iraq further assert its sovereignty over its territory.
The semi-autonomous KRG – which hasn’t objected to Ankara’s operations – is also disturbed by the presence of the PKK. The terror group controls some towns and villages and even gives municipal services there. KRG’s peshmerga forces are blocked from entering those areas and clashes erupt at times over their control.
On the other hand, it is apparent that the Iraqi army doesn’t have the capacity to uproot the PKK on its own. It already faces myriad issues, including ensuring central government authority across the country and fighting Daesh.
Today, the PKK also has access to US-supplied weapons from the YPG, its Syrian offshoot, and collaborates with Shia militant groups. In other words, the Iraqi army is facing challenges on multiple fronts.
But it is still Baghdad’s duty to prevent foreign armed groups, particularly terrorist organisations, from taking root on its soil. In fact, it successfully fought Daesh with the help of the international coalition. When it comes to its fight against the PKK, it also needs support in carrying out operations among the sharp rocks of Qandil.
Instead of directing accusations at Ankara for its operations — which does nothing to improve relations between the two countries — the Iraqi government can do its part in the fight against terrorism.
Ankara continuously underlines that it wants the unity and security of Iraq. While the Daesh threat has been minimised, the PKK is still a threat to both countries. Iraqi officials should admit that a terror-free Iraq means no Turkish intervention and better relations with Türkiye.