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Turkey’s push into Iraq risks
SARARO, Iraq, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Overlooking the deserted village of Sararo in northern Iraq, three Turkish military outposts shatter the skyline, part of an incursion that has forced residents to flee the year after days of shelling.
The outposts are just some of the dozens of new military bases Turkey has established on Iraqi soil over the past two years as it steps up its decades-long offensive against Kurdish militants sheltered in the remote region. and accident.
“When Turkey first came to the area, they put up small portable tents, but in the spring they put up outposts with bricks and cement,” Sararo Mayor Abdulrahman Hussein said. Rashid, in December during a visit to the village, where shell casings and shrapnel still litter the ground.”They have drones and cameras that work 24/7.
They know everything that’s going on,” he told Reuters, as drones buzzed over the mountainous terrain 5 km from the border. Turkey’s advances across the increasingly depopulated border of Iraqi Kurdistan attract little global attention compared to its incursions into Syria or the battle against Islamic State, but the escalation risks further destabilizing a region where foreign powers intervened with impunity, according to analysts.
Turkey could become more involved if its new Iraqi bases come under sustained attack, while its growing presence could also encourage Iran to expand its military action in Iraq against groups it accuses of fomenting unrest at home, according to Kurdish officials. Former Kurdistan Peshmerga Forces General Secretary Jabar Manda says Turkey had 29 outposts in Iraq until 2019, but the number has exploded as Ankara tries to block the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to launch attacks on its own territory.”
Year after year, the outposts have multiplied after the escalation of fighting between Turkish forces and the PKK,” he said, estimating the current number at 87, mostly in a strip of border territory in Turkey. about 150 km long (95 miles) and 30 km Deep.” In these outposts, there are tanks and armored vehicles,” said Manda, who is now a security analyst at Sulaimaniya.
“Helicopters supply the outposts daily.”EMPTY VILLAGESA Kurdish official, who requested anonymity, also said Turkey now has around 80 outposts in Iraq. Another Kurdish official said at least 50 had been built in the past two years and Turkey’s presence was becoming more permanent. Asked to comment on its bases in Iraq, the Turkish Defense Ministry said its operations complied with Article 51 of the UN Charter, which gives member states the right to defend themselves in the event of attacks.
“Our fight against terrorism in northern Iraq is carried out in coordination and close cooperation with the Iraqi authorities,” the ministry said in a statement, which did not respond to questions about the figures cited by officials. Kurds. Turkey’s presence in northern Iraq, which has long been outside the direct control of the government in Baghdad, dates back to the 1990s when former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein let Turkish forces advance 5km into the country to fight the PKK.
Since then, Turkey has built a significant presence, including a base at Bashiqa 80km inside Iraq, where it says Turkish troops were part of an international mission to train and equip Iraqi forces. to fight the Islamic State. Turkey said it was working to avoid civilian casualties through its coordination with Iraqi authorities.
A report released in August by an NGO coalition, End Cross-Border Bombing, said at least 98 civilians have been killed between 2015 and 2021. The International Crisis Group, which gave a similar civilian toll, said that 1,180 PKK militants were killed between 2015 and 2023.
According to an Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) official, the conflict has also emptied at least 800 villages since 2015, when a ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK broke down, driving thousands of people from their homes. they.NEW TARGETSBeyond the humanitarian impact, Turkey’s incursion risks widening the conflict by giving regional rival Iran carte blanche to step up intelligence operations in Iraq and carry out its own military action, according to Kurdish officials.
Tehran has previously fired missiles at bases of Kurdish groups it accuses of being involved in protests against its restrictions on women, displacing hundreds of Iranian Kurds and killing some. Iran did not respond to requests for comment. Pro-Iranian militias in Iraq also have a pretext to respond to Turkey’s presence, analysts say, raising the prospect of an escalation between Turkish troops and groups other than the PKK.
Hamdi Malik, an expert on Iraqi Shiite militias at the Washington Institute, said pro-Iranian groups such as Liwa Ahrar al-Iraq (Free People’s Brigade of Iraq) and Ahrar Sinjar (Free People of Sinjar) have rebranded themselves as the last year resistance against the Turkish presence.
According to a Washington Institute report, attacks on Turkish military installations in Iraq have fallen from an average of 1.5 strikes per month in early 2022 to seven in April.
If the groups, which are deeply hostile to Washington, step up their operations, it would also undermine the influence of the United States and its 2,000 troops in Iraq, said Mustafa Gurbuz, a nonresident scholar at the Arab Center Washington.
“Turkey underestimates the strength of the opposition and the fact that these facilities will become targets in the future and more so as hostilities increase,” said Sajad Jiyad, Baghdad-based analyst for The Century Foundation, an American think tank.
“THEY MADE US BOTH” The fragmented politics of northern Iraq means that neither the federal government in Baghdad nor the regional authority of the KRG are strong enough to challenge Turkey’s presence – or to achieve Ankara’s goal of containing the PKK themselves. themselves.
Baghdad’s government has complained about Ankara’s incursions but has little authority in the mainly Kurdish north, while the region’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) lacks the firepower to challenge the PKK, although he considers it a powerful and populist rival.
The KDP has always cooperated with Turkey, but has limited influence over a neighbor that wields much greater military and economic clout.”We call on all foreign military groups – including the PKK – not to drag the Kurdistan region into any type of conflict or tension,” KRG spokesman Jotiar Adil said.”The PKK is the main reason that pushed Turkey to enter our territories in the Kurdistan region.
Therefore, we believe that the PKK should leave,” he said. “We are not one side in this long-running conflict and we do not intend to be on any side.”Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani told Reuters that the conflict between Turkey and the PKK was a matter of concern, but less urgent than the threat from Islamic State.
Hariam Mahmoud, a leading figure in the Kurdistan Liberation Movement, a civilian opposition group in Iraq influenced by the ideas of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, said no matter how tightly Turkey squeezes them, they will continue to resist.”In our view, it’s an occupation and fighting resistance is a legitimate right,” said Mahmoud, who lives in Garmiyan district in southern Sulaimaniya.
Civilians, meanwhile, continue to pay the price. Ramzan Ali, 72, was irrigating his field in Hirure a few kilometers from Sararo in 2021, when he heard a huge explosion. The next thing he remembers is being on the floor covered in blood.
He said a Turkish shell had crashed into his property – a regular occurrence when Turkish troops respond to PKK attacks with artillery.”I saw my life flash before my eyes,” Ali said in the town of Zakho, where he still suffers injuries from shrapnel. “I am angry with the PKK and with Turkey. They have both wronged us.”Reporting by Amina Ismail in Sararo, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, and Kawa Omar in Dohuk; Editing by Dominic Evans and David Clarke
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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