Turkey’s Plan to Invade South Kurdistan

The Iraqi Army and Peshmerga forces made unexpected advances in the first days of the operation to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State group. However in the run-up to and following the U.S. elections these advancements have almost entirely stopped. The fundamental reason for this is that everybody is waiting for the Republican Party to declare its intent on the matter. The change in administration has created a power-vacuum, and this is causing some idleness in the forces participating in the operation.

There are also the forces that were left out of the Mosul operation during Obama’s tenure; Turkey being the main one. Turkey’s main objective during this period is to once again gain an active role in Iraq and Mosul affairs. To achieve this it is trying to bridge the gap -created due to pressure from the USA and Iraqi government- between itself and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). It is also using Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) presence in South Kurdistan and the ‘I’m fighting terror’ excuse to extend its military influence outside Turkey’s borders. Both of these initiatives are important for Turkey and interconnected. 

At the moment hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles, as well as thousands of soldiers are stationed at the Hac Billeting Station, 5km from the Khabour Border Gate with South Kurdistan (Northern Iraq). Using PKK presence as an excuse, the Turkish state wants to enter South Kurdistan and if possible even Mosul. Reports in the media also suggest that the planned cross border operation is different to previous years. Until now the Turkish state has engaged in 29 cross border operations against the Kurdish Freedom Movement, however they had never declared national mobilisation before. This time the AKP government has made a call for mobilisation. It is well known that national mobilisation calls are made when one country goes to war against another. It is also done when an army is struggling. In fact in previous years the Turkish army would have refrained from any action or discourse that would show it to be weak against the PKK; this time it hasn’t.

In all appearances the Turkish state seems intent on invading Iraq. It is trying to create the legitimacy for this with its ‘war on terror’ discourse. The practical military leg of this plan is to march to Mosul and reach Sinjar through Tel Afar and/or enter and invade certain areas in South Kurdistan under the guise of attacking PKK bases in Qandil. In any case the aim is to form a safe zone against the PKK in South Kurdistan. This plan will mean that Turkey will need to occupy almost one third of the region. If one or both of these plans is realised the Turkish army will become an occupational force in both Iraq and the KRG. To avoid this accusation the Turkish state is trying push the KDP to form a political cover for legitimising and rationalising its presence there. Internationally Turkey is exploiting its membership to NATO and the transition phase in the U.S. to achieve its goal. And by declaring national mobilisation it is hoping to fill the gaps that may grow in the military sphere.

This is the framework the Turkish state and army are working within at the moment. To add to this Turkey also has military-buildup in South Kurdistan and has occupied certain areas. This was done in alliance with the KDP, otherwise the Turkish army would not have been able to enter and pass through areas controlled by this party so easily. Furthermore, the KDP –despite many reports about Turkish presence in the area- did not make any statements verifying or denying them.

Could the KDP support the Turkish state with a plan of this scope and objective? Under normal circumstances support for a plan that would mean occupation by the Turkish army -let alone against the PKK- would be the end of the KDP in South Kurdistan. The KDP would be accused of treason. In reality the party does not have mass political support anyway. In fact it is the PKK, because of its fight against the Islamic State, which has grown in popularity. Also add to this that the people blame the governing KDP as being largely responsible for the financial crisis in the Kurdistan Region and it becomes clear that the KDP is surviving due to its military power. However a military alliance between the Turkish state and KDP against the PKK could weaken this aspect of the Massoud Barzani-led party as well.

On the other hand however, it seems very unlikely that the KDP will refrain from allying itself with the Turkish state and army. Like the AKP, the KDP also blames the PKK for any criticism it receives from the people and other political parties. So much so that every crisis in the KRG is assessed and framed as an attack by the PKK against the KDP. The PKK’s presence in any form is deemed as an existential threat. This is another reason why it is impossible for the KDP to remain uninvolved in the Turkish state’s plans. Equally though, it doesn’t seem rational for it to support these plans openly either. So then the likelihood is that the KDP will ally itself with the Turkish state on the sly and support the attempt for an invasion in an underhanded manner.

Source: Yeni Ozgur Politika

Isak Levi

Editor at Marxism-Leninism-Maoism