Baghdad must draw ‘red line’ against Turkish operations in northern Iraq - op-ed

Baghdad must draw a red line to stop Turkey’s aggression in northern Iraq, after a Turkish air strike killed two high-ranking Iraqi border officials, security expert Maya Carlin wrote in an op-ed Jerusalem Post published on Saturday.

On Aug. 11, the Iraqi military said an air strike in northern Iraq killed two members of Iraq’s border guard and their driver in the Erbil governate, calling the incident a "blatant Turkish drone attack".

Turkey launched a joint air and ground offensive into various regions of northern Iraq in June targeting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in response to increased attacks against Turkish military forces. Turkey regularly targets the PKK in operations in northern Iraq and on home soil.

“Although Turkey’s military incursions targeting Kurds in Iraq are not new, Baghdad’s response to its latest round of hostilities is unprecedented,” said Carlin, an analyst at the Center for Security Policy in Washington.

In response to the incident, Iraq cancelled a scheduled visit by the Turkish defence minister and Baghdad summoned the country’s ambassador to hand him a letter of protest.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s political platform centres on the prioritisation of Iraq’s sovereignty and condemnation of foreign intervention in the country, Carlin wrote.

In spite of this, Kadhimi will not likely not react to Turkey’s military operations beyond diplomatic measures because Baghdad is hamstrung by a vast number of issues – including the spread of COVID-19, economic collapse, public distrust in the Iraqi government and grappling with U.S.-Iranian tensions on Iraqi soil – and thus cannot afford a larger response, she said.

The Aug. 11 incident came as Turkey ramps up its regional efforts along several different fronts. In recent months, Turkish forces have launched major offensives against Kurdish armed groups in Syria and Iraq, intervened against the rebel General Khalifa Haftar in Libya, backed Azerbaijan in its post-Soviet territorial dispute with Armenia and confronted the Greek Navy in disputed waters.

Turkey will likely escalate its Iraq operations until a “red line” is drawn, Carlin said.