Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu has visited the Kurdish region in northern Iraq and met with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani, and other notable Kurdish leaders to discuss Turkey’s airstrikes against outlawed PKK targets in northern Iraq and the outlawed ISIS targets in northern Syria.
Turkey has been a target of increasing attacks by militant groups such as ISIS and the PKK since a suicide bombing, widely thought to have been carried out by ISIS, in Suruc district of Turkey’s southeastern Sanliurfa province claimed 32 lives on July 20.
The PKK has in particular increased its attacks on both police and the Turkish Armed Forces and killed several security officers following the Suruc suicide bombing. Fourteen Turkish security officials have been killed in militant attacks by the PKK and ISIS since the bombing.
In response to the PKK and ISIS attacks, Turkish security forces have stepped up efforts against the militant groups and have launched air strikes in several positions used by PKK and ISIS in northern Iraq and Syria respectively since last week.
Barzani’s office released a statement saying that, “Everybody should participate in the fight against ISIS which needs to be conducted on all fronts including military, economic, and ideological dimensions. We are particularly pleased to hear that Turkey is also part of the US-led coalition against ISIS,” following the meeting on July 29 in Erbil, the capital of the KRG.
“The war against ISIS will be much more effective and reach its objectives after Turkey has joined with the coalition,” the statement added.
Sinirlioglu also informed Barzani’s government that Turkey reached a comprehensive agreement with the US government to allow its Incirlik base, located 100 km (60 miles) from northwest Syrian border, and Turkish airfields to be used by US-led coalition air forces for airstrikes against ISIS in order to execute a joint action plan in northern Syria.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu previously said that “safe zones” will automatically emerge in northern Syria and Iraq after ISIS has been eliminated by Turkey and its allies in the respective regions.
Sinirlioglu said, “Turkey made such a decision in order to defeat the ISIS terrorists and allow refugees to go back their homes in Syria. At the same time, the returning refugees could receive humanitarian aid [in the established safe zones].”
Barzani and Sinirlioglu also discussed Turkey’s recent operations against the PKK.
Barzani stated, “The KRG does not accept war and conflict as a proper method. We encourage both sides to revive the peace process and take advantage of the political initiative and process,” in order to resolve Kurdish question.
Sinirlioglu said, “There has been enough space for all sides in Turkey for political debate which should be in accordance with democratic principles and should be away from armed struggle.”
“These principles are the main condition for the success of [Kurdish-Turkish] peace process. Turkey has always been dependent on these principles,” he added.
Sinirlioglu also met with officials belonging to former Iraqi President Celal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party and Goran movement leaders in Suleymaniye on July 30.
Goran (which means change in Kurdish) is a breakaway group from the PUK led by Nawshirwan Mustafa who was a former PUK commander.
In the latest meetings, Sinirlioglu told his interlocutors that “As long as the PKK does not accept disarmament there will be no point in continuing the current peace process,” Iraqi Kurdish newspaper Rudaw reported.
Turkey has undertaken numerous cross-border operations against PKK camps and hideouts, targeting PKK terrorists in northern Iraq with the support of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Peshmerga forces and Talabani’s PUK Peshmerga forces since the 1980s.
Turkey needs the support of the KRG for airstrikes and for a possible cross-border operation against PKK targets in order to put pressure on the PKK’s leadership following the recent clashes between the PKK and the Turkish Army.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had a phone conversation with Barzani on July 25 after the airstrikes began.
The Associated Press has reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi commented on Turkish airstrikes in northern Iraq by saying that his cabinet regards the attacks as “a dangerous escalation and a violation of Iraq's sovereignty."