Turkey sends special forces into northern Iraq

Cross-border raid escalates the border battle against Kurdish rebels and is likely to further fray ties with Baghdad.

Turkey special forces
Turkey justified deploying commandos because of a 'recent upsurge in attacks' near the Iraqi border [File: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP]

Turkey deployed special forces in northern Iraq on Wednesday in an operation against Kurdish rebels backed by air and artillery support as the conflict continues to escalate.

Warplanes struck more than 150 Kurdish targets in northern Iraq’s Haftanin region, 15km (9 miles) from the Turkish border, the defence ministry said. It was the second such operation launched against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in recent days.

“Our heroic commandos are in Haftanin,” the ministry said, dubbing the new operation “Claw-Tiger”. “Our commandos – who are supported by combat helicopters and drones – have been transported by our air force.”

The defence ministry justified launching the operation because of a “recent upsurge in attacks on our police stations and military bases” near the Iraqi border.

There was no immediate reaction from the PKK or from Baghdad and northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

PKK leader calls for ceasefire in Turkey

The move is likely to increase friction between Ankara and Baghdad, which on Tuesday summoned the Turkish ambassador to protest Turkish air strikes on Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq this week.

“In order to neutralise the PKK and other terrorist elements threatening our people and our borders, our air force, along with fire-support equipment, helicopters and our commandos, supported by armed and unarmed drones, have mobilised to the region with air operations,” the ministry said.

It shared videos of Defence Minister Hulusi Akar overseeing the mission at a command centre in Ankara.

Wednesday’s attack came just days after Turkey said an operation it called “Claw-Eagle” was launched against PKK targets in various regions of northern Iraq.

Iranian involvement?

Al Jazeera’s Simona Foltyn, reporting from Baghdad, said the lack of government response to the cross-border raid has been interpreted by some analysts as acquiescence to Turkey’s offensive.

“The way some people interpret this is the Kurdish authorities have welcomed these operations because they don’t really want the presence of the PKK fighters on their ground either,” said Foltyn.

“What is also interesting is this appears not just to be a Turkish operation. There appears to be some Iranian involvement through artillery strikes that are still ongoing.” 

Turkey regularly targets PKK armed groups, both in its mainly Kurdish southeast and in northern Iraq, where the group is based. The two latest air attacks come amid what Ankara says is an increase in attacks on Turkish army bases.

Turkey has also warned in recent years of a potential ground offensive targeting PKK bases in the Qandil mountains.

“Turkey continues its fight against terrorists using the rights based on international law,” said Omer Celik, the deputy chairman of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party. It is our most natural right and duty to fight terrorists who attack our borders, citizens, and security forces.

The PKK, designated as a “terrorist” group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 with the goal of creating an independent Kurdish nation.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict focused in southeast Turkey.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies