Intra-Kurd fight begins in Iraq’s Sinjar as Ankara-Arbil alliance strengthens

Intra-Kurd fight begins in Iraq’s Sinjar as Ankara-Arbil alliance strengthens

Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani was in Turkey on Feb. 26 and 27 for meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. Barzani’s visit followed his meeting with Yıldırım in Germany on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. In Munich, Barzani had high-level talks with leaders of a number of prominent powers, including the United States and European countries.

One of the most important issues discussed in Ankara centered around Turkey’s concerns over the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) plans to take full control of Iraq’s Sinjar province, effectively turning the area into its second headquarters. 

Ankara believes such a move will create an important bridge between the PKK in Iraq and its affiliate in Syria, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), further destabilizing the region. Turkey has said it will not allow the PKK to settle in Sinjar and will not hesitate to take action if neither the KRG nor the central Iraqi government put a stop to it. 

For the Iraqi government, which has been heavily concentrated on the ongoing Mosul operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), it is out of the question to engage another armed fight with the PKK. Time is working to the advantage of the PKK, which has been able to establish Sinjar Protection Units (YBS) and secure control of much of the province in recent months. 

That is why Turkish officials raised this issue as a priority during Barzani’s visit to Ankara. Recent developments suggest that the Ankara-Erbil dialogue yielded results, as Peshmerga Rojava forces launched an offensive on the PKK-affiliated YBS forces in the region. The Peshmerga Rojava forces are made up of Kurds from Syria and were formed and trained in Iraq with the backing of Barzani. 

The Rojava Peshmerga left Syria between 2012 and 2014 after being forced out by the PKK-affiliated YPG. It is believed that it is made up of around 7,000 fighters and was preparing to deploy a new regiment to the Syria-Iraq border when YBS forces opened fire on them. 

The clashes in Sinjar mark the first time that Barzani-led groups have clashed with other Kurdish groups, including the PKK and the YBS. Barzani, as the most powerful Kurdish leader in the region, has long tried to avoid fighting other Kurdish groups in order to avoid weakening his leadership by creating enmity between different Kurdish groups. 

Recent developments make clear that the Ankara-Arbil alliance has been strengthened by Barzani’s visit to Turkey last week. The first concrete result is the latter’s attempt to clear the PKK out of Sinjar, in line with Ankara’s request. 

There are reports that the Rojava Peshmerga could also be deployed to different parts of Syria in the near future, in line with Turkish military advances towards Munbij. It’s still too early to see to what extent this alliance will be reflected in the battlefields of Syria, especially at a time when the YPG is apparently maintaining its legitimacy in the eyes of the U.S., Russia and the Syrian regime.