Turkey has launched a large-scale land and aerial cross-border attack against Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq to start the new week.

Turkey’s Special Forces and elite commando units were deployed alongside artillery, T129B helicopters, drones, and F-16 jets as part of the mission that reportedly attacked targets of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq’s Metina, Zap, and Avashin-Basyan regions.

The operation, codenamed Claw Lock, occurred a day after Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, declared: “We will free Syria and Iraq from the clutches of the US and Europe, and restore peace there.”

According to Zaed Ismail, a member of the Istanbul-based Academy of International Relations’ scientific council, the operation is linked to increased missile strikes against the Turkish base in Zilikan, Nineveh, and the PKK’s progress into Sinjar in northern Iraq. It’s also tied to Ankara’s and Irbil’s recent political relations.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, recently met in Irbil with Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government.

Sinjar is becoming an alternate headquarters for the PKK, according to experts.

“The military activities started around a week after Barzani’s travel to Ankara, indicating that security coordination between Irbil and Ankara was in place to launch the military operation,” Ismail said.

With repeated missile assaults on Irbil Airport, the PKK “began posing a greater existential danger to the political stability of the entire geography of northern Iraq,” according to Ismail.
The offensive was coordinated with Turkey’s “friends and partners,” according to the Defense Ministry.

However, Ismail believes that resolving the conflict with airstrikes will be impossible unless international conditions are provided for a large-scale ground action.

The operation, which began at midnight, was initiated as Russia continued its invasion of Ukraine, with Western partners applauding Turkey’s mediation role.

The PKK has already been recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

The latest operation, according to Tuna Aygun, an Iraq expert at the Ankara-based think tank ORSAM, was part of a previous attack, although this time Turkey was targeting PKK runaway elements from the eastern and western areas of the region.
“For a long time, the operating region had been a safe haven for PKK militants.” “Since 2017, the PKK has primarily concentrated its logistical and military resources in Iraq in order to attack targets in Turkey,” he told Arab News.

“By establishing temporary military bases, Turkey aims at establishing its control on the transit routes of the militants according to the geographical characteristics of the territory,” said Aygun.

However, it is still unknown how long the military operation will go and whether PKK fighters will be constrained in their movements.

“This isn’t going to be a one-day operation.” “However, with the rising deployment of armed drones during such offensives, these moves are no longer dependent on the weather,” Aygun stated. He went on to say that Baghdad and Irbil support Turkey’s latest operation because it is considered as a method to calm a region where the PKK has displaced thousands of residents in recent years.

Ahead of the upcoming elections next year, this operation is also likely to have domestic repercussions in Turkish politics in the eyes of nationalist voters, and used as a trump card against the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party.

Turkey has been trying to construct a security zone inside the Kurdistan area for years, according to Yerevan Saeed, a research associate at the Arab Gulf Institute in Washington.
“The military operation appears to be deeper and more intense this year,” he told Arab News.

Its objectives are likely to include seizing control of strategic areas of Afashin, Matin, Khukuk and Zab. “In the past, the Turkish military has failed to control them,” he added.
“If successful, Ankara will be able to separate Qandil mountains where PKK bases are located from (the) Rojava and Sinjar areas, (restricting the) PKK’s movements.”

Ali Semin, an expert on Iraqi politics from Nisantasi University in Istanbul, said the offensive is part of a series of operations since 2019 to create a buffer zone between its border with Northern Iraq and PKK-dominated areas.

“Ankara seems to seize the best political opportunity to expand its operation,” he told Arab News.

“The leadership in Baghdad and Irbil consider the latest activities of the PKK as an intervention (to) their political presence,” said Semin.

“Unlike the past operations of Turkey that were criticized by Iraqi authorities as a violation of their territorial sovereignty, Turkey’s current operation mostly (have) their backing,” said the expert.

Over the last three decades, Semin said, about 250 villages had been evacuated in northern Iraq. This was also where fighting in the past few years has intensified between Peshmerga forces loyal to the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the PKK.

According to Noah Ringler, an expert from Georgetown University, the offensive has received military support from the Turkish-aligned KDP Peshmerga and comes amid ongoing challenges with government formations in Baghdad, where Turkish officials now believe they have broad support from political parties for the operation.

“The goals of the operation likely include new Turkish operations posts closer to the PKK’s strategic strongholds near Qandil mountains, which holds political significance in Turkey, as well as disruption of PKK operations and influence in the region, and the strengthening of Kurdish and Iraqi political actors aligned with Turkey,” he told Arab News.

Experts also note that the success of such operations will also influence local dynamics in Syria.
“(The) Kurdish People’s Protection Units are mostly supported logistically and militarily by the PKK bases in Sinjar,” Semin said.
Baghdad and Irbil reached a security and administrative agreement on Sinjar on Oct. 9, 2020.
However, the agreement that called for the removal of PKK forces in the region has not been implemented yet.
“Turkey, together with Baghdad and Irbil, can be a facilitator to execute this agreement and turn the region into a secure zone where the Iraqi authorities regain control,” Semin said.

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