PKK is dragging Turkey further into northern Iraq - ex-commander

Former Iraqi military chief of staff Babakir Zebari said the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was to blame for Turkey extending military operations up to 20 kilometres into Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, Iraqi Kurdish news network Rudaw reported on Monday.

“Wherever there are Turkish troops, they (the PKK) go and drag them deep into the Kurdistan Region,” said Zebari, who is also a former politician of the region’s ruling party.

In February, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani condemned the PKK for “exporting” a problem between the group and Turkey to Iraqi soil. Turkey and the KRG have developed close economic and political relations over the past two decades, with the region relying on many Turkish-sourced goods and services.

The PKK is an armed group that has fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for almost four decades. The group has several bases in the region, including its main headquarters in the Qandil mountains. It is recognised as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

Zebari said the KRG has not consented to the operations Turkey is carrying out in the area.

“Turkey has had no agreement with neither the Iraqi nor the Kurdish side to enter the borders of the Kurdistan Region,” Rudaw cited Zebari as saying. “I believe if they could, they would not leave those points unless they are pressured.”

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar visited a base in the region on May 1, after which Iraq summoned Turkey’s chargé d'affaires to Baghdad to express its strong objections.

Turkey began operations into the Metina and Avashin areas near the region’s Dohuk governorate last month. Turkey has conducted a latest series of cross-border incursions into Iraq since June 2020, when the military started Operations Claw-Tiger and Claw-Eagle. In February, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said military activities would be expanded.

Turkey has more than 30 temporary military bases in northern Iraq and has advanced up to 40 kilometres into the region, a senior Turkish official told Reuters last year.