A Turkish military base was attacked by violent protesters in northern Iraq. Both the Kurdistan Regional Government and Turkey say the PKK provoked the crowds.
Both Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) condemned last week's mob attack on a Turkish military base near the Turkish border in northern Iraq, blaming the PKK, which is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and NATO.
During the mob attack, several Turkish military vehicles were burnt in the town of Shaladze, in Dohuk, a northern Iraqi city. The confrontation left one protester dead and several others wounded.
“As a result of the provocation of the PKK terrorist organisation, an attack took place in our base area located in northern Iraq,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
The attack apparently aimed to prevent Turkish air strikes against PKK camps, which are scattered across the Turkish border in the region. The Turkish air force has recently intensified its air campaign against the camps, while Ankara prepares to launch a third cross-border operation against YPG-held territories in northern Syria. The YPG is the Syrian wing of the PKK.
“Because Turkish armed forces have induced heavy damages to the PKK, the group might organise such a protest to prevent further [Turkish] strikes,” explained Cevat Ones, the former deputy director of the Turkish national intelligence agency.
PKK activity aims to decrease Turkey's operational capability in the region by creating anti-Turkish propaganda and gaining civilian support, Ones told TRT World. The latest incident, which appears to be the first in its kind,is likely another PKK activity, said Ones.
Ones also noted that the PKK might want to create chaos in the region to prolong Washington’s support to the group and discourage American withdrawal from northern Syria, where the US fights Daesh and supports the YPG, despite strong Turkish protests.
Ever since 1998, when the PKK leadership along with its founder Abdullah Ocalan, was expelled from Syria after a Turkish military ultimatum, the group’s top leadership has been located in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq. They were settled there after the departure of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a Sulaymaniyah-based party founded and once led by the late Jalal Talabani, the former Iraqi president.
Barzani versus PKK in northern Iraq
PKK presence in the region has created a serious political issue between Turkey, Iraq, and the Kurdish-led regional government, and Talabani’s archenemy Massoud Barzani, who is the current leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the former president of the KRG, has previously and publicly called the PKK to leave northern Iraq.
However, the KRG, a long-divided government between the PUK and the KDP and the product of Kurdish factionalism, has struggled to expel the PKK from northern Iraq. Since the early 1990s, Turkey, at times allied with both the KDP and the PUK, has launched numerous cross-border operations to eradicate the PKK groups. Ankara has also established several military posts in the region to check PKK threats against its national security.
After the recent attack against the Turkish military base, Nechirvan Barzani, the KRG Prime Minister, who is also the nephew of Massoud Barzani, has again voiced the regional government’s opposition to the PKK presence in northern Iraq, stating that the terror group was responsible for causing civilian casualties.
“We don’t accept the use of our land to threaten the security of our neighbours. Our people are paying the price of using our territory to threaten the security of our neighbours. PKK is using our land to target our neighbours, and our people are paying the price of it,” said Barzani, during a press conference in the regional capital Erbil.
“Did the air strikes target the villages? No! The areas where the PKK is located are targeted. There is only one reason for what happened here. It is the PKK itself,” Barzani pointedly said.
The KRG’s strong criticism of the mob attack is likely to have a positive impact on Turkey's relations with the Kurdish-led regional government after a widely controversial Barzani-led independence referendum in 2017 triggered a diplomatic tussle between the two sides.
“Relations between Barzani and Turkey have enormous importance to limit PKK activities,” Ones said.
The PKK’s four-decade terrorist campaign against the Turkish state has led more than 40,000 casualties across the country.