Turkey’s push into Iraq dangers deeper battle

SARARO, Iraq, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Looming over the abandoned village of Sararo in northern Iraq, three Turkish army outposts break the skyline, a part of an incursion that compelled the residents to flee final 12 months after days of shelling.

The outposts are simply among the dozens of recent army bases Turkey has established on Iraqi soil prior to now two years because it steps up its decades-long offensive in opposition to Kurdish militants sheltered within the distant and rugged area.

“When Turkey first got here to the world, they arrange small transportable tents, however within the spring, they arrange outposts with bricks and cement,” Sararo’s mayor Abdulrahman Hussein Rashid mentioned in December throughout a go to to the village, the place shell casings and shrapnel nonetheless litter the bottom.

“They’ve drones and cameras working 24/7. They know all the things that is happening,” he informed Reuters, as drones buzzed overhead within the mountainous terrain 5 km from the frontier.

Turkey’s advances throughout the more and more depopulated border of Iraqi Kurdistan appeal to little world consideration in comparison with its incursions into Syria or the battle in opposition to Islamic State, however the escalation dangers additional destabilising a area the place overseas powers have intervened with impunity, analysts say.

Turkey might develop into additional embroiled if its new Iraqi bases come beneath sustained assault, whereas its rising presence may additionally embolden Iran to increase army motion in Iraq in opposition to teams it accuses of fomenting unrest at residence, Kurdish officers say.

Former secretary basic for Kurdistan’s Peshmerga forces, Jabar Manda, mentioned Turkey had 29 outposts in Iraq till 2019 however the quantity has mushroomed as Ankara tries to cease the Kurdistan Staff’ Social gathering (PKK) launching assaults by itself territory.

“Yr after 12 months the outposts have been growing after the escalation of battles between Turkish forces and the PKK,” he mentioned, estimating the present quantity at 87, largely in a strip of border territory about 150 km lengthy (95 miles) and 30 km deep.

“In these outposts there are tanks and armoured autos,” mentioned Manda, who’s now a safety analyst in Sulaimaniya. “Helicopters provide the outposts each day.”


A Kurdish official, who declined to be named, additionally mentioned Turkey now had about 80 outposts in Iraq. One other Kurdish official mentioned at the very least 50 had been constructed within the final two years and that Turkey’s presence was changing into extra everlasting.

Requested to touch upon its bases in Iraq, Turkey’s defence ministry mentioned its operations there have been in keeping with article 51 of the U.N. Constitution, which provides member states the precise to self defence within the occasion of assaults.

“Our combat in opposition to terrorism in northern Iraq is carried out in coordination and shut cooperation with the Iraqi authorities,” the ministry mentioned in a press release, which didn’t tackle questions in regards to the figures cited by Kurdish officers.

Turkey’s presence in northern Iraq, which has lengthy been exterior the direct management of the Baghdad authorities, dates again to the Nineteen Nineties when former Iraqi chief Saddam Hussein let Turkish forces advance 5 km into the nation to combat the PKK.

Since then, Turkey has constructed a big presence, together with one base at Bashiqa 80 km inside Iraq, the place it says Turkish troops have been a part of a global mission to coach and equip Iraqi forces to combat Islamic State.

Turkey mentioned it labored to keep away from civilian casualties by way of its coordination with Iraqi authorities.

A report printed in August by a coalition of NGOs, Finish Cross-Border Bombing, mentioned at the very least 98 civilians have been killed between 2015 and 2021. The Worldwide Disaster Group, which gave an analogous civilian loss of life toll, mentioned 1,180 PKK militants have been killed between 2015 and 2023.

Based on an official with Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Authorities (KRG), the battle has additionally emptied at the very least 800 villages since 2015, when a ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK broke down, driving hundreds of individuals from their houses.


Past the humanitarian influence, Turkey’s incursion dangers widening the battle by giving carte blanche to regional rival Iran to step up intelligence operations inside Iraq and take its personal army motion, Kurdish officers say.

Tehran has already fired missiles at bases of Kurdish teams it accuses of involvement in protests in opposition to its restrictions on girls, displacing tons of of Iranian Kurds and killing some.

Iran didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Professional-Iranian militias in Iraq even have a pretext to reply to Turkey’s presence, analysts say, elevating the prospect of escalation between Turkish troops and teams in addition to the PKK.

Hamdi Malik, a specialist on Iraqi Shi’ite militias on the Washington Institute, mentioned pro-Iranian teams reminiscent of Liwa Ahrar al-Iraq (Free Folks of Iraq Brigade) and Ahrar Sinjar (Free Folks of Sinjar) rebranded themselves final 12 months because the resistance in opposition to the Turkish presence.

Based on a Washington Institute report, assaults on Turkish army services in Iraq elevated from a median of 1.5 strikes per thirty days in the beginning of 2022 to seven in April.

If the teams, that are deeply hostile to Washington, step up operations that will additionally undermine the affect of the US and its 2,000 troops in Iraq, mentioned Mustafa Gurbuz, a non-resident fellow on the Arab Middle Washington.

“Turkey is underestimating the power of opposition and the truth that these services will develop into targets sooner or later and extra in order hostilities enhance,” mentioned Sajad Jiyad, Baghdad-based analyst for The Century Basis, a U.S. think-tank.


Northern Iraq’s fragmented politics imply that neither the federal authorities in Baghdad nor the KRG regional authority are sturdy sufficient to problem Turkey’s presence – or to satisfy Ankara’s purpose of containing the PKK themselves.

The Baghdad authorities has complained about Ankara’s incursions however has little authority within the primarily Kurdish north, whereas the area’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Social gathering (KDP) doesn’t have the firepower to problem the PKK, regardless of seeing it as a potent and populist rival.

The KDP has traditionally cooperated with Turkey however has restricted affect over a neighbour which wields far larger army and financial clout.

“We ask all overseas army teams – together with the PKK – to not drag the Kurdistan Area into any sort of conflicts or tensions,” KRG spokesman Jotiar Adil mentioned.

“The PKK are the primary motive that pushed Turkey to enter our territories within the Kurdistan Area. Subsequently, we expect the PKK ought to go away,” he mentioned. “We aren’t a facet on this long-standing battle and now we have no plans to be on any facet.”

Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani informed Reuters the battle between Turkey and the PKK was a matter of concern, however much less urgent than the risk from Islamic State.

Hariam Mahmoud, a number one determine within the Kurdistan Liberation Motion, a civilian opposition group in Iraq influenced by the concepts of jailed PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan, mentioned irrespective of how a lot Turkey squeezes them they’ll proceed to withstand.

“In our opinion, that is an occupation and combating resistance is a professional proper,” mentioned Mahmoud, who lives in Garmiyan district south of Sulaimaniya.

Civilians, in the meantime, proceed to pay the worth.

Ramzan Ali, 72, was irrigating his area in Hirure a couple of km from Sararo in 2021, when he heard an enormous blast. The subsequent factor he remembers is being on the bottom lined in blood.

He mentioned a Turkish shell had crashed into his property – an everyday incidence when Turkish troops reply to PKK assaults with artillery.

“I watched my life flash earlier than my eyes,” Ali mentioned within the city of Zakho, the place he’s nonetheless affected by shrapnel wounds. “I’m mad at each the PKK and Turkey. They’ve each wronged us.”

Reporting by Amina Ismail in Sararo, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad and Kawa Omar in Dohuk; Modifying by Dominic Evans and David Clarke

Our Requirements: The Thomson Reuters Belief Rules.

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