According to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, Turkish forces are currently based dozens of kilometers inside northern Iraq and could push further to attack the Kurds in the Qandil Mountains. This is where the stronghold of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), designated as a terrorist organization in Turkey, is reportedly located.
The prospect of a massive military operation emerged less than three months after the Afrin campaign, codenamed Olive Branch, was finalized, with Ankara announcing that the northern Syrian city is under the full control of Turkish troops.
Now Turkey is set to shift its attention to the PKK bases, essentially “to prevent infiltrations and terror activities there,” Yildirim stated. He went on to blast the PKK for carrying out “provocations and traps,” adding that Turkey will pursue further actions if the PKK persists in its operations.
“Every option (on Qandil) is on the table,” he added.
Yildirim notably reiterated what President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday night: the head of state had threatened, at the time, a strike on Qandil and the Sinjar area to the west if Iraq failed to clear the region of the PKK units.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi expressed determination to negotiate with Turkey, but he called on the country to respect Iraqi sovereignty, adding Turkey has had amilitary presence in northern Iraq for over 30 years.
“We will not accept an assault on Iraqi sovereignty even if it is a Turkish electoral campaign,” he said, referring to the upcoming June 24 elections in eastern Turkey.
In recent years, Ankara has launched two military campaigns in northern Syria against the Kurdish YPG units, which it says are an extension of the PKK, which has been deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the US, and the EU.
In a recent development earlier in the week, Ankara and Washington, which supports the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), agreed on a schedule to pull out Kurdish units from the Syrian city of Manbij. However, according to Yildirim, the step, although positive, is not enough; he went further to demand that weapons which the US reportedly supplies to the YPG, should be immediately withdrawn.
The conflict between Ankara and the Kurds worsened in July 2015 when peace between Turkey and the PKK groups was disrupted over a series of terror attacks allegedly committed by the party members.
The Turkish military is currently engaged in the anti-PKK raids across the country as well as in neighboring states, thus countering Kurds’ ambitions to create an independent Kurdish state in Iraq, Syria and Iran, which could potentially trigger separatist sentiments inside Turkey.