Turkey to turn anti-PKK fight into long-term campaign

Turkey to turn anti-PKK fight into long-term campaign

The slaughter of 13 Turkish nationals, including privates and policemen who were held by the PKK for years, by the PKK terrorists in a cave in northern Iraq during the Turkish army’s operation in northern Iraq’s Gara province has created a national rage and anger.

As suggested by senior government officials, Turkey’s fight against PKK terrorism will be much wider and tougher in the post-Gara incident. This anti-terror campaign will also have serious repercussions in politics.

In the first instance, fighting the PKK inside and outside Turkey will likely intensify. Turkish Interior Ministry’s detention of more than 700 persons on charges of terror, including officials from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), immediately after the incident is a strong signal to this end.

Plus, as suggested by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s anti-terror operations in Iraq and Syria will likely linger in the coming period. “I am hereby openly telling the world once again. After the massacre committed in Gara, no country, no organization, no group or no person can question, criticize or oppose Turkey’s operations in Iraq and Syria anymore,” he vowed on Feb. 15 in his first statement about the killing of 13 citizens.

In fact, Iraq and Syria are two different theaters concerning Turkey’s continued fight against terror. Turkey has long been conducting operations in northern Iraq where the PKK has its main headquarters and facilities. According to
Turkish officials, the PKK had to remove some of its bases to the southern parts of northern Iraq and to Sinjar province on the Syrian border because of the intense aerial attacks by the Turkish army.

In addition to Turkey’s unilateral actions in northern Iraq, Ankara is also seeking cooperation with both Baghdad and Arbil in a bid to clear the Sinjar province of the PKK elements as this area constitutes the main connection between the PKK in Iraq and its offshoot, the YPG in northern Syria.

No doubt, this anti-PKK campaign will gain momentum in northern Iraq in the coming period as both central and regional governments of Iraq are perceived to be on the same page about the PKK’s presence in the region.
The situation in northeastern Syria is much more complicated. President Erdoğan and other senior Turkish leaders have long been expressing their growing discomfort about the YPG’s intensified activities in the region, including terror attacks against the locals.

As known, Turkey still controls an area of 100 kilometers wide and 30 kilometers deep between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in northeastern Syria as a result of its 2019 Operation Peace Spring against the YPG presence. The
United States, Russia, and other prominent European powers had strongly opposed the Turkish operation, which ended after Ankara signed two separate memoranda of understandings with Washington and Moscow.

However, Ankara’s disturbance about the U.S. continued military and support to the YPG is there and will likely escalate in the coming period as the Biden administration has already declared that it won’t change its policy of partnering with the YPG in the fight against the ISIL. Concretely, the Turkish media reported that the U.S. shipped new military equipment to the YPG over the weekend.

Therefore, a new operation by the Turkish army into the region against the YPG would constitute a breaking point in ties with all the aforementioned countries, including the U.S., Russia and France, etc.

Secondly, the post-Gara process will have its consequences on the political arena. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, President Erdoğan’s main ally, in a strongly-worded statement, reiterated his call for the closure of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and informed that his party would appeal to a supreme court to this end. He targeted the HDP lawmakers at the parliament and the oppositional Nation Alliance for its informal cooperation with the HDP.

The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) quick move to task Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu to directly engage with the political parties and inform the parliament about the Gara incident can be seen as the political leg of this campaign. The AKP will also set up a special investigation panel at the Parliament in a bid to keep the issue at the Parliament’s agenda for a long time as a pressure on the Nation Alliance over the HDP. The ruling party’s officials hope this step will create more divides in the oppositional alliance.

As seen, the PKK’s killing of 13 citizens in a cave is expected to lead to drastic consequences in both Turkey’s anti-terror fight and Turkish politics. Past experiences signal that this can be a long-term campaign with strong impacts on Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies.