Turkey eyes ‘four-way deal’ against PKK in northern Iraq
Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
This file photo shows Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (Photo: Anadolu Agency)
Turkey is working with the United States, Iraq, and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in its fight to eliminate the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said, stressing the necessity of “joint action” against the group.
“There will be a four-way cooperation between Turkey, the U.S., Baghdad and Arbil [in the fight against the PKK]. Because the PKK is also the enemy of Arbil,” Çavuşoğlu told Ankara bureau chiefs of media outlets at a press conference in Antalya on June 5, referring to the KRG capital.
Çavuşoğlu was in Washington on June 4 to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, particularly on bilateral cooperation in the Syrian theater. Talks between the two foreign ministers also touched on Turkey’s recent military mobilization in northern Iraq, where the PKK has had its main headquarters and training camps since the early 1980s.
An operation against the PKK in northern Iraq requires intelligence-sharing between these four actors and political coordination, he added, stressing that “necessary works are ongoing to this end. We are conducting operations against the terrorist organization.”
Turkey and the U.S. have recently established a working group solely to focus on the fight against the PKK in Iraq, while Ankara has also launched talks with both Baghdad and Arbil on the same matter.
“We are determined to clear the PKK from our borders. In addition to this four-way agreement, support from inside Iraq is also key because at the end of the day this is Iraqi soil. [The PKK] has left the Sinjar [province of Iraq] but it still has a sizeable presence in the Kandil Mountains [of northern Iraq] and beyond. We will clear all these areas,” Çavuşoğlu said.
His statements come as the Turkish Armed Forces have stepped up activities in northern Iraq in recent months. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly vowed that the PKK’s presence in northern Iraq will be eliminated.
‘YPG will leave weapons while leaving Manbij’
Çavuşoğlu also spoke about the “road map” that Turkey and the U.S. have reportedly endorsed on the withdrawal of the PKK’s Syrian offshoot, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), from Manbij, an issue that has caused tension between the two allies since 2016.
He said the road map includes three stages, with the first 10 days devoted to initial preparations between the militaries and intelligence agencies of the two sides for the withdrawal of the YPG troops and actions to be taken by the two sides in Manbij. In the second stage, teams from both sides will hold meetings to conclude preparations. In the third stage the implementation of the road map will be carried out.
Çavuşoğlu said YPG militants will leave the city after they drop their weapons and Turkish and American troops will provide the control of the province in accordance with the road map. “The weapons that were given to the YPG by the U.S. will be taken back,” he said, adding that the entire process will be concluded within six months.
“In the third stage, we will also decide who will govern this place and who will take their place in security teams. This will lead to stability in Manbij. We will implement the same model to other YPG-held areas if we are successful. This is cited in our road map. Both sides have this determination,” he said, stressing that the road map is endorsed by the two foreign ministers and “not an agreement or a protocol.”
“This goes beyond an international agreement. It is a road map, the implementation of which will have an impact on our bilateral ties. As it has been endorsed, we can say there is a positive trend but obviously we must see its implementation,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Upon a question, he added that he does not think the U.S. will designate the YPG as a terrorist organization, although the Turkish side has repeatedly emphasized the strong links between it and the PKK.
‘No alternative to cooperation with Russia’
Çavuşoğlu emphasized that “no third country will play a role” in the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij, while adding that Ankara’s deal with Washington is “in no way an alternative to its cooperation with Moscow in Syria.”
Turkey’s cooperation with Russia mainly focuses on the western parts of Syria with an aim to create necessary conditions for direct talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition, while Turkey and the U.S. are mainly discussing the situation in eastern Syria, Çavuşoğlu noted.part Mike Pompeo.
US: Manbij will be ruled by locals
The United States says the Syrian town of Manbij will be governed by "locals" who are "mutually agreeable" to the U.S. and Turkey following the withdrawal of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces from the city.
Senior U.S. officials who spoke to the Associated Press said on June 5 that a U.S.-Turkey deal for Kurdish-led troops to withdraw from the strategic city includes "estimated timelines" but no hard-and-fast deadlines for steps to be taken. They say implementation will be timed based on events on the ground.
The officials weren't authorized to be identified by name and requested anonymity.