Under interim Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi, a new rapprochement has begun between the two countries to put up a joint fight against the PKK terror group.
Following the meeting between Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi in Ankara on Thursday, the two neighbouring states have reached an understanding to establish a united front against the PKK terror group's presence in northern Iraq.
While Kadhimi categorically announced that Iraq would "not tolerate any organisation and structure which threatens Turkey’s national security," Erdogan said "separatist terrorists have no place in the future of Turkey, Iraq or Syria".
The strong statements coming from the two leaders indicate that the PKK's presence in Iraq has become the thorn in the flesh for Baghdad and in time, the terror group may not enjoy the freedom to run its camps on the Iraqi soil.
“It’s certain from the meeting that both sides have reached a political understanding to which groups like PKK and Daesh represent security threats against the two countries and Ankara and Baghdad need to fight together against those threats,” says Mehmet Alaca, an expert on Iraq and Shia militias.
“Baghdad appears to have come to a point where it recognises that the PKK is a threat to not only Turkey but also Iraq. Most possibly, after this meeting, Iraq will open a new page regarding the PKK,” Alaca tells TRT World.
Since the 1980s, Turkey has conducted a number of cross-border operations into northern Iraq to eradicate PKK groups there without much help from Iraqi authorities.
The PKK, a terrorist organisation in the eyes of Turkey, the EU and the US, has used Iraqi and Syrian territories to launch a terror campaign that has lasted for years against Ankara, costing tens of thousands of lives. The PKK’s headquarters are also located in northern Iraq’s Qandil mountains.
“During his speech, Kadhimi did not talk about anything like ‘you violate our sovereignty’, suggesting that he is able to find a common ground with Turkey. It’s all clear that both countries will share more intelligence regarding operations against the PKK after this week’s meeting,” Alaca says.
Both leaders have emphasised “a security collaboration” against terror after the meeting. “Iraq appears to give a green light to Turkey to go after the PKK to break up the group’s hold in the region,” Alaca observes. Due to the PKK’s aggressive posture in northern Iraq, where Iran appears to support the terror group, Baghdad is getting closer to Turkey, according to Alaca.
Interim leader Kadhimi, whose tenure will be tested in the upcoming general elections in 2021 should he choose to put his name on the ballot, needs supporters like Turkey as tensions between Iran and the US continue to escalate across the Middle East.
Kadhimi, who is of Shia-origin despite being a secular politician, is backed by the US to limit Iran’s influence in Iraq, a Shia majority country.
Turkey and Iran have also held some serious disagreements over the Syrian conflict and Tehran’s conduct in Iraq, where some of its Shia proxies, like Hashdi Shabi, operate side by side with the PKK in places like Sinjar as if they are autonomous forces.
Hashdi Shabi-PKK alliance
“Kadhimi thinks that armed groups like Hashdi Shabi and terror groups like the PKK jeopardise Iraq’s sovereignty,” says Bekir Aydogan, a political analyst on the Kurds and northern Iraq politics.
According to experts like Alaca and Aydogan, both Hashdi Shabi and the PKK collaborate with each other in the Sinjar region, which has been taken over by PKK groups in the pretext of fighting Daesh back in 2014.
Both groups have also appeared to work together to diminish the influence of the Masoud Barzani-led Kurdistan Democratic Party(KDP), which is a leading force in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, according to both experts.
As a result, in early October, Kadhimi and the KRG signed the Sinjar agreement, which aims to conduct a joint operation to break up the Hashdi Shabi-PKK alliance there, retaking control of the Yazidi-majority region.
Turkey strongly supports the Sinjar agreement, which is also backed by major countries like the US, Britain and Germany, promising all necessary support to enforce it in the region. The agreement has been signed under the auspices of the UN.
“But Iran-backed Hashdi Shabi and other Shia groups, which have a lot of influence in Baghdad, prevent Kadhimi to take a tough stance against Hashdi Shabi and PKK groups under Hashdi Shabi leadership in Sinjar,” Aydogan tells TRT World.
Like other PKK hideouts in northern Iraq, Turkey also conducted operations in Sinjar, where Kadhimi appears to need Ankara’s assistance to reinstitute Baghdad’s sovereignty over there.
The outcome of the recent Kadhimi-Erdogan meeting suggests that Turkey’s anti-PKK operations across northern Iraq, including the Sinjar region, will continue despite opposition from Iraq’s Shia groups, says Aydogan.
“We could assess that Kadhimi will continue to preserve its moderate stance over Turkish operations,” Aydogan adds.