Turkey’s push into Iraq dangers deeper battle

By Amina Ismail

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

The outposts are simply a few of the dozens of latest army bases Turkey has established on Iraqi soil previously 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 stated 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 advised 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 turn into additional embroiled if its new Iraqi bases come below sustained assault, whereas its rising presence might also embolden Iran to broaden army motion in Iraq in opposition to teams it accuses of fomenting unrest at residence, Kurdish officers say.

Former secretary normal for Kurdistan’s Peshmerga forces, Jabar Manda, stated Turkey had 29 outposts in Iraq till 2019 however the quantity has mushroomed as Ankara tries to cease the Kurdistan Employees’ Get together (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 stated, estimating the present quantity at 87, principally in a strip of border territory about 150 km lengthy (95 miles) and 30 km deep.

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


A Kurdish official, who declined to be named, additionally stated Turkey now had about 80 outposts in Iraq. One other Kurdish official stated a minimum of 50 had been constructed within the final two years and that Turkey’s presence was turning into extra everlasting.

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

“Our battle in opposition to terrorism in northern Iraq is carried out in coordination and shut cooperation with the Iraqi authorities,” the ministry stated in an announcement, which didn’t handle 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 Nineties when former Iraqi chief Saddam Hussein let Turkish forces advance 5 km into the nation to battle the PKK.

Since then, Turkey has constructed a major 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 battle Islamic State.

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

A report revealed in August by a coalition of NGOs, Finish Cross-Border Bombing, stated a minimum of 98 civilians have been killed between 2015 and 2021. The Worldwide Disaster Group, which gave an identical civilian demise toll, stated 1,180 PKK militants have been killed between 2015 and 2023.

In keeping with an official with Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Authorities (KRG), the battle has additionally emptied a minimum of 800 villages since 2015, when a ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK broke down, driving 1000’s of individuals from their properties.


Past the humanitarian affect, 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 answer 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, stated pro-Iranian teams corresponding to 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.

In keeping with a Washington Institute report, assaults on Turkish army amenities in Iraq elevated from a median of 1.5 strikes monthly initially 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, stated Mustafa Gurbuz, a non-resident fellow on the Arab Heart Washington.

“Turkey is underestimating the energy of opposition and the truth that these amenities will turn into targets sooner or later and extra in order hostilities enhance,” stated 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 robust sufficient to problem Turkey’s presence – or to fulfill 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 Get together (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 form of conflicts or tensions,” KRG spokesman Jotiar Adil stated.

“The PKK are the principle purpose that pushed Turkey to enter our territories within the Kurdistan Area. Due to this fact, we expect the PKK ought to depart,” he stated. “We aren’t a aspect on this long-standing battle and we’ve got no plans to be on any aspect.”

Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani advised 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, stated regardless 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,” stated Mahmoud, who lives in Garmiyan district south of Sulaimaniya.

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

Ramzan Ali, 72, was irrigating his discipline in Hirure just a few km from Sararo in 2021, when he heard an enormous blast. The following factor he remembers is being on the bottom coated in blood.

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

“I watched my life flash earlier than my eyes,” Ali stated 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; Enhancing by Dominic Evans and David Clarke)

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