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With Eyes and Claws in Northern Iraq
The Turkish Defense Ministry announced the launch of two military operations aimed at military posts of the PKK and Yazidi militias linked to it, in the Sinjar, Qandil, Makhmur and Haftanin areas, during which Turkish army used its air force, including drones.

Eva J. KOULOURIOTIS

10/07/2020 Region: Middle East Topic: Conflicts

The Turkish Defense Ministry announced, three weeks ago, the launch of two military operations aimed at military posts of the PKK and Yazidi militias linked to it, in the Sinjar, Qandil, Makhmur and Haftanin areas, during which Turkish army used its air force, including drones.

Also, Turkish commandos have set up a military hospital in the Haftanin area, most likely in view of new military operations in the future. These operations, although not being carried out by Turkey for the first time against PKK positions in northern Iraq, this time have different characteristics in terms of timing, geopolitical dimensions and the messages they seek to send through military action. I will try to explain the situation before and after the Turkish "Claws".

In a quick review of the target map of the operations, we find that the Turkish army is trying to focus mainly on two areas. The first is the province of Nineveh, where Mount Sinjar and the Makhmur camp are considered to be under the influence of the militia called the "Sinjar Resistance Units", which is a militia of the Yazidi minority and is linked to the terrorist PKK. Yazidis are the same people subjected to heinous crimes by the Islamic State after the events of 2014, when the organization led by Abu Moataz Al-Talfari Turkmani (who is, in my opinion, himself the current leader of the Islamic State Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi) took control of large parts of Nineveh province, mainly the Sinjar and Makhmur districts. These areas were then under the influence of Iraqi Kurdish forces (Peshmerga). The other area targeted by Turkish forces is the Qandil Mountains, where it is known to be the headquarters of the most important leaders of the terrorist Kurdish Workers' Party, which leads us to wonder about the position of the administration of the region regarding the presence of this terrorist organization. That is why I think we need to talk in depth about what happened in the past and is happening today in the region of Iraqi Kurdistan with a pragmatic view.

With an eye on Iraqi Kurdistan

When we talk about this strategic area, the first thing that comes to mind is the city of Erbil, a city developed with advanced construction, which maintains the tradition of the ancient Kurdish costumes and the flag of Kurdistan with the bright sun in the middle. Politically, what the Western media and Kurdish administration representatives are projecting is that this region is living in the most glorious era of democracy, freedom, justice and economic stability. However, this picture does not reflect the whole truth and reality in an area that today is on the verge of ignition internally and externally.

Political and military pressure from Turkey and the West, led by the US, on the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in mid-1990's, has led to a cessation of civil war between them in northern Iraq, which has severely affected Kurdish and Arab populations in the region. With the end of the civil war, a kind of economic spring began, with huge funds of many billions coming from Europe and the United States to "support the Kurdish project", facilitating the economic and cultural renaissance of Iraqi Kurdish society. But most of these funds have taken a different path. Corruption in the area did not begin yesterday. The need for stability and security has covered the economic corruption of the ruling Kurdish parties. The situation remained the same for a long time until September 25, 2017, when the results of the referendum on the independence of the region were announced, which, as expected, confirmed the great desire between its peoples - Kurds and Arabs - to completely secede from the Baghdad government. This plan created a big dream and higher hopes that suddenly crashed with the region entering a dangerous turn.

After the referendum

With the entry of Iraqi and Iranian forces into the sensitive and important city of Kirkuk, it became clear that independence had become a nightmare and the region had entered a dark tunnel in all aspects. The two major Kurdish parties suffered a major blow and began to lose their popularity and the support of part of the Kurdish people. This was a political and ideological setback for these parties that built their narrative on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. But the referendum showed their weakness and misery in the masses who supported them and their plan. This situation was reflected in the economy of the region. The level of corruption of Kurdish leaders has widened. The billions in revenue from the sale of oil that could support the region's economy were used to buy votes. Recent Western media reports confirm the purchase of villas in the United States and Europe by Kurdish party leaders, valued at tens of millions of dollars, when a Kurdish father stood in front of the Halabja town hall with his children crying from hunger and threatened to set himself on fire (2). This is the picture of Iraqi Kurdistan today. As for the administrative part of the region, it is closer to being divided into two parts, the first in Sulaymaniyah and the second in Erbil in a way that reminds us of the unpleasant picture of the 1990s. In this chaos, the winners are always the extremist organisations. And this is where the terrorist PKK comes in.

Sinjar Mountains

A minority of Yazidis live in this area, in harmony with the surrounding communities. Prior to the US invasion, the area was under the rule and administration of the central government of Baghdad. Following the collapse of the Iraqi regime in 2003, the Kurdish administration in Erbil expanded its control to the west, with Peshmerga forces dominating this strategically important area. The escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq, which has resulted in this minority suffering from terrorist attacks without visible protection from Peshmerga, has given the PKK the opportunity to exploit its fears and form a militia affiliated with it under the name "Sinjar Resistance Units". The events of 2014 were the first real test of this militia and Peshmerga's forces, which failed and withdrew without a fight, leaving behind thousands of Yazidis at the mercy of ISIS.

By the end of 2014, Peshmerga backed by International Coalition Forces against Daesh and its air force, were able to regain control of the Sinjar Mountains and lift the siege of hundreds of Yazidi families. The Yazidi militia then returned with new cover, as part of the Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi militia, since according to its financial statements, 1,800 members of the PKK-affiliated militia are receiving their monthly salaries from its budget, that is, the budget of the Ministry of Defense of Baghdad. This raises questions about what is happening in the Iraqi capital.

A few days after the announcement of the two Turkish operations in northern Iraq, the Baghdad government condemned them and denied Turkish intervention in Iraqi territory. This announcement came by a government that is not even able to protect itself from missiles hitting the Green Zone on a daily basis, so how can Ankara trust it to protect the Turkish-Iraqi border? On the other hand, the government of Iraqi Kurdistan is too weak to prevent the expansion of Kurdish terrorist organizations, according to Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, who said a few days ago: "If the PKK wants to help the region, then it must leave because its presence is causing problems." With this weak rhetoric, the enormous corruption of the Kurdish administration and the political and military instability that Ankara is fully aware of, it is obliged to move on its own. Turkey is likely to continue in the coming months with military operations aimed mainly at the Qandil Mountains and the Makhmur and Sinjar camps.

As for the political situation in the region, I think it is closer than ever to the division between its two poles. The winner will again be the extremist organizations, led by the terrorist PKK.

Note: Eva J. Koulouriotis is a Greek political analyst specialising in the Middle East