PKK is also a threat to NATO mission in Iraq

PKK is also a threat to NATO mission in Iraq

The merciless killing of 13 Turkish nationals at the hands of the PKK in a cave in northern Iraq continues to be in the spotlight in terms of both internal politics and Turkey’s relationship with its allies at NATO.

Let’s put it bluntly: Very few NATO members have issued a formal and proper condemnation of the incident. Most of them merely offered condolences through the Twitter accounts of their embassies in Ankara although the PKK is a designated terror organization by all of them.

On the other hand, it was remarkable to observe that the foreign ministers of five prominent NATO countries — France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States — issued a joint statement to condemn a rocket attack in northern Iraq which killed a contractor with the Global Coalition against the ISIL and left several injured.

This column is not intending to compare these two terrorist attacks but just wants to draw attention to the difference in approach.

This was the reason why Defense Minister Hulusi Akar brought the Gara incident to the attention of the NATO defense ministers at a virtual ministerial meeting on Feb. 17 and 18. “We underlined the importance of our Allies acting in unity, togetherness and solidarity in the fight against terrorism as a common threat,” Akar said at the meeting, according to a statement issued on the website of his ministry.

Akar has raised two more dimensions concerning the PKK at the meeting where the new U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin was also virtually present: The killings of 13 citizens proved once more “that the PKK and the YPG are the same terrorist organization.” (One of the terrorists responsible for the brutal execution of the hostages was found out to be a member of the YPG in northeastern Syria before moving to northern Iraq.)

Secondly, Akar stated that the PKK is the biggest obstacle to NATO’s mission in Iraq which will be expanded in the coming period. As Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has announced, NATO has decided to increase the number of its personnel from 500 to 4,000 and include more security institutions and areas.

Turkey has been attaching great importance to upgrading the capacity of the Iraqi security institutions in its fight against terrorism and contributing to NATO’s mission in this country since the very beginning. Although the primary target is ISIL, it should not be underestimated that the PKK has been using the political and security vacuum in this country for nearly four-decades and destabilizing the entire region.

As can be recalled, in the past years, the PKK had cooperated with all other terror organizations operating in Iraq although its ideology and objectives were totally different. There is no reason why it would not do it again in the coming period in a bid to further destabilize Iraq.

Plus, the PKK is also posing a threat to the stability of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), particularly in the areas the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is controlling. A recent deal between Baghdad and Arbil for the security of the Sinjar province and intensified dialogue between Turkey and Iraq stem from the fact that the PKK is seeking to expand its influence in a wider region in northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

That’s why the PKK will never like to see a more capable and strong Iraqi army and NATO’s presence in this country.

Turkey’s Western allies should realize that the PKK is not solely a threat to Turkey but to the entire Iraq, and any expanded NATO mission should be designed accordingly.

Serkan Demirtaş,