Turkish President Erdoğan plans mass military operation in Iraq, Syria against PKK

Turkish President Erdoğan plans to launch a mass military operation in Iraq and Syria against PKK and YPG after local elections. Erdoğan is also expected to make his first visit to Baghdad and Erbil as president, according to the online news outlet T24.

Duvar English

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have been preparing for a comprehensive operation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and People's Defense Units (YPG) in northern Iraq and Syria after the local elections on March 31, according to the reporting of the T24.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is also expected to visit Baghdad and Erbil after the elections. Turkey has been conducting comprehensive negotiations with the United States and Russian administrations for some time regarding the operations.

The Turkish military has been continuing its military operation in Northern Iraq after the PKK killed nine soldiers a military base area on Jan. 13. In north-eastern Syria, the identified targets are frequently hit.

According to Iraqi officials, the Turkish military has crossed the Iraqi border some 30 kilometers inland.

In a statement made after the cabinet meeting on March 4, President Erdoğan drew attention to the preparation of a comprehensive operation against the presence of the PKK in the two countries.  

"Hopefully, this summer, we will have permanently resolved the issue regarding our Iraqi borders. Our will to create a security corridor 30-40 kilometers deep along our Syrian borders remains intact. We have preparations that will give new nightmares to those who think that they will bring Turkey to its knees with a ‘terroristan' along its southern borders,” Erdoğan stated.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan visited Baghdad in August 2023. Six months after this visit, Defense Minister Yaşar Güler, together with Chief of General Staff General Metin Gürak, visited Erbil and discussed the PKK's presence in the region with the Kurdish administration.

Nechirvan Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, also met with President Erdoğan on March 1. Recently, a brigade of Iraqi Border Guards was deployed to the Shaladize region on the Turkish border, where intense clashes took place.

President Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government (R), President Erdoğan (C), and Foreign Minister Fidan meet on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum.

Erdoğan on Feb. 26 announced that his long-awaited visit to Iraq would take place after the local elections. Kurdish sources announced that President Erdoğan's Baghdad program would be determined in mid-April after Ramadan and that the protocol team would start preparations soon. 

According to a report by Kurdish news outlet K24, Erdoğan is expected to discuss the unresolved water problem between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, the PKK, trade, and the oil marketing through Turkey.

Erdoğan visited Baghdad in 2008 and 2011 during his tenure as the prime minister. The last visit at the presidential level was made by Abdullah Gül in 2009 after 33 years.

Erdoğan is likely to visit Northern Iraq as part of his visit to Iraq. He is expected to meet with the President of the regional government, the prime minister, and other senior officials in Erbil during his possible visit.

Economy on table between Turkey, Iraq

One of the most important problems between Turkey and Iraq is the water dispute that has been going on for almost 70 years. Turkey's construction of more than 20 dams on the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has exacerbated Iraq's drought and desertification problems.

Baghdad frequently accused Ankara of being reluctant to honor international agreements and demanded an increase in the capacity of water flowing from the rivers.

Ankara, on the other hand, wanted to involve Turkish companies in the construction of Iraq’s Al-Faw Grand Port and the Development Road project, which aims to connect Gulf states to Europe as an alternative to the Suez Canal. 

Following the decision of the International Court of Arbitration in  March 2023 on the marketing of Kurdish oil through Turkey upon the application of the Baghdad administration, the shipment through the Ceyhan Port has stopped.

According to the court ruling, Turkey has to pay Iraq 1.7 billion dollars in compensation. Although most of the demands of the Iraqi side have been fulfilled, the negotiations have not yielded any results so far.

The trade volume between Turkey and Iraq reached 15.2 billion dollars in 2022. Turkey aims to increase the level of trade between the two countries to over 20 billion dollars.

Turkey’s plan for Northern Syria

To implement President Erdoğan's plan for a 30-40 kilometer "Safe Zone" on the Syrian border, the Foreign Ministry and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) have intensified their negotiations with the U.S., Russia, and Arab countries.

While preparations for a comprehensive operation in the region have been underway, Ankara reportedly has increased its attempts to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to support the possible operation of the Turkish military through Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. 

With the re-admission of Syria to the Arab League, its relations with Arab countries started to normalize. King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia would reportedly visit Damascus soon and convey Turkey's request to Assad during the meeting.

Turkey has been demanding the U.S. withdraw its support to YPG, which was formed by the U.S. to fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) among Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, and Turkmen in the region. 

Even though Washington accepted PKK as a terrorist organization, Ankara perceived YPG as PKK’s branch and demanded its recognition as a terrorist organization as well.