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Turkey expects Iraq to clear the Kurdish mess

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News Analysis |

The President of Turkey, Recep Erdogan, on Monday, said that if Iraqi forces fail to clear out PKK militants in Sinjar, the Turkish military will take over operations. The intelligence chief of Turkey is reportedly going to meet an official from Iraq. Turkey and Iraq will discuss Iraq military operations in the northern Sinjar region of Iraq. Militants from the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) have established a base there.

The PKK are considered terrorists by Turkey as well as other key allies of Turkey, including the US. The PKK has made a number of terrorist attacks on Turkish soil. The year 2016 was especially tragic for Turkey. Nearly 275 people died as a result of terrorist attacks, either by the PKK or by ISIS. The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) was formed in in the late 1970s and calls for an ‘independent state of Kurdistan’ within Turkey.

Ankara holds PKK responsible for indiscriminate attacks on civilians and security forces alike. That is why Turkey is conscious of any strongholds that Kurdish militant groups like the PKK may establish in Iraq or Syria. Earlier this year, Turkey launched operation Olive Branch in the north-east of Syria in Afrin district. The YPJ or the Peoples Protection Unit, another Kurdish militia had established a base there.

The EU also demands that Turkey must change laws, such as the Anti-terrorism law, to allow accession of Turkey into the European Union. Ankara, on the other hand, maintains such laws are necessary for the internal security of the country.

The Turkish army along with its air force made a military incursion into Northern Syria along its borders to prevent the formation of a Kurdish corridor. Such a corridor may allow militant groups to consolidate territory and premeditate terror attacks within Turkey. Regarding the PKK in Sinjar, Erdogan said, “We hope that the Iraqi central government will carry out this operation in Sinjar properly,” adding that Turkey will do “what is necessary” if the Iraqi government’s operation failed. On Friday, the PKK had announced that they are vacating Sinjar.

The Turkish president made this statement in a press conference before his visit to Varna in the Bulgarian Black Sea for a summit where leaders from EU and Turkey are set to meet. Trade, economy, security and foreign policy are on the summit’s agenda. Relations between Ankara and Brussels have been on the decline for a number of years. More broadly, ties between Turkey and the West have been strained recently, especially since the failed coup in Turkey in 2016.

Read more: Erdogan criticized West for not supporting Turkey’s offensive in Afrin

Erdogan holds Fateh Ullah Gulen responsible for the attempted coup in 2016. Gulen is a preacher, imam and political figure. The Gulen movement has nearly 5 million followers spread across the business and entertainment sector in Turkey. Many ‘Gulenists’ have occupied important government posts before the attempted coup. Gullen now resides in the US. Ankara has demaned that he be extradited but washington refuses to give him up, demanding ‘evidence’.

Turkey, which has the second most powerful military in NATO, has since been moving away from its Western allies and getting close to Russia.  It was around this time that Erdogan referred to Vladimir Putin as his ‘dear friend’. Even though Turkey had downed a Russian fighter jet in December 2015, Moscow and Ankara soon warmed up to each other. By November 2017, ties between Russia and Turkey had been ‘fully restored’. As sign of the growing friendship between Russia and Turkey, the iconic Russian made S-400 missiles are being purchased by Turkey for over $2.5 billion dollars.

Last year, local authorities in Germany prevented government officials from Turkey from speaking at rallies to supporters of Erdogan. There are over a million Turkish citizens living in Germany. Ankara reacted by saying Berlin should ‘learn to behave’.

The S-400 is an anti-aircraft weapon system with an operational range of over 400 kilometers. An official from Washington decried the move by Ankara, arguing that the procurement of this missile system will disturb the ‘interoperability’ of NATO. Similarly, during the Gulf-Qatar crisis, Turkey maintained relations with Qatar when the GCC led by Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt, had boycotted relations and blockaded trade and communications. As a result of which the economy of Qatar began to suffer.

Tehran maintained a steady food supply to Doha, which cemented Iran-Qatar relations. Russia, after having already cooperated in the civil war in Syria with Iran, extended diplomatic support to Qatar and Iran. Turkey refused to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia and held talks with Qatar for provision of food supplies. Another sign of declining ties between Turkey and the West is the refusal of the European Union to allow EU membership to Turkey.

Read more: Erdogan support for Pakistan highlights US’ worsening ties with the world

Since Nicolas Sarkozy came to power in France and Angela Merkel in Germany, the EU has tried to maintain a friendly relationship with Turkey albeit keeping a distance of sorts. For a long time, Turkey was seen as ‘the sick man of Europe’. Now, however, Turkey is an economic powerhouse and has one of the strongest militaries in the world. The geopolitical importance of Turkey can’t be denied. This is why the EU seeks to maintain a relationship with EU for practical reasons but does not want to grant full membership.

Erdogan holds Fateh Ullah Gulen responsible for the attempted coup in 2016. Gulen is a preacher, imam and political figure. The Gulen movement has nearly 5 million followers spread across the business and entertainment sector in Turkey.

A deal was agreed upon by Turkey and the EU during the migrant crisis in 2015. Accordingly, the EU would pay six billion euros over two phases to Turkey for housing Syrian refugees. However, the EU’s desire to cut migration was threatened by internal disagreements. This led to a dispute between Ankara and Brussels over the phasing of the six billion euros. EU member states couldn’t agree about how the bill would be split among them.

Read more: Erdogan counters Trump by declaring Turkey will open embassy to Palestine…

Last year, local authorities in Germany prevented government officials from Turkey from speaking at rallies to supporters of Erdogan. There are over a million Turkish citizens living in Germany. Ankara reacted by saying Berlin should ‘learn to behave’. The EU also demands that Turkey must change laws, such as the Anti-terrorism law, to allow accession of Turkey into the European Union. Ankara, on the other hand, maintains such laws are necessary for the internal security of the country.

Based on these prior developments, it is unlikely that the summit in Varna will bring about any meaningful improvement in relations EU-Turkey relations.


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