Turkey’s operations focused more on PKK than ISIL

Turkey’s operations focused more on PKK than ISIL

Turkey’s three-year-long Kurdish peace process ended last week, as Turkish warplanes bombed and artillery units shelled outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq in retaliation to the killing of two Turkish policemen by PKK terrorists. 

A day before, the Turkish Air Force took off to hit Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) positions inside Syria, this time in retaliation to a suicide bombing that killed 31 people and the killing of a Turkish officer on the Syrian border. 

In his long statement to the media, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu explained recent ISIL and PKK attacks were carried out in a coordinated way, especially after the June 7 polls that created a political vacuum. More than 200 terror incidents have been witnessed since the election, Davutoğlu said, in an effort to weaken the public order inside the country. 

Therefore, the overall campaign launched by Turkey can be described as a “comprehensive fight against terror,” a duty to provide the security of its citizens and borders given to any state. There is no need to underline that today’s world and its universal values oblige every one of us to stand against any terrorist or violent acts no matter what the cause is. It is within this frame that Turkey’s allies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, NATO and others, have voiced their support to the Turkish military’s efforts to defeat terrorists in Iraq and Syria. 

However, they also underline the need for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish peace process through dialogue. Reading between the lines of statements from the aforementioned allies, there appears to be two major concerns: 

- The military’s offensive in northern Iraq will make a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish issue nearly impossible. It will toughen the positions of the two sides, the Turkish government and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)-PKK, which would cause the resumption of the armed conflict. An end to the Kurdish process would also slow down Turkey’s democratization process and potentially deteriorate its relationship with its Western partners. 

In addition, bombing PKK positions in northern Iraq under the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authority would complicate the position of Masoud Barzani and other Kurds in the region, known to be the strongest allies of the U.S. in the field. Thus, it’s highly likely to hear from these countries that these attacks on the PKK should cease.

- The second concern is that Turkey’s military offensive will shift the country’s focus from ISIL to the PKK. The fight against ISIL is seen as the primary objective of the anti-ISIL coalition and Turkey joining it was applauded by many of the coalition partners. Turkey paving the way for coalition countries’ warplanes to use Turkish bases is of course very important and is seen as game changer by many. But the detention of hundreds of ISIL sympathizers across the country in only the last week sparked questions on why these measures had not been taken earlier.  

As a matter of fact, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made very clear July 28 that his primary concern is the HDP, as he suggested pro-Kurdish lawmakers should pay the cost of pro-PKK statements. He openly called on parliament to strip some of HDP lawmakers’ immunity so they can be prosecuted. 

This toughening position expressed by Erdoğan accompanied with intensified military action on cross-border PKK targets clearly shows the real motivation behind this campaign is to discredit the HDP in the eyes of Turkish public opinion before a potential early election. 

Time will tell the cost of this plan by Erdoğan and the government, and to what extent it will work.