Turkey launches new offensive against PKK rebels in northern Iraq

Turkey announced on Monday the start of a new ground and air campaign in northern Iraq, targeting the armed rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Dubbed Operation Claw-Lock, the Ankara government says the offensive is a pre-emptive measure to prevent the PKK from using Iraq as a base to carry out attacks in Turkey.

Founded in 1984 to fight for Kurdish autonomy, the PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The new operation comes days after Iraqi Kurdistan Prime Minister Masrour Barzani met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. The two leaders discussed ways to improve security, business and trade relations, according to a statement from Barzani’s office.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, quoted by the state-run Anadolu news agency, said: “Our operation is continuing successfully as planned. The targets identified in the first phase have been captured.”

Meanwhile, in a statement, PKK fighters claimed to have shot down two Turkish helicopters and killed more than two dozen Turkish soldiers.

VOA cannot independently verify conflicting reports.

The Turkish army has carried out several operations against the PKK in recent years, both inside Turkey and in northern Iraq. The latest operation targets areas near Shiladze district of Amedi city.

Amedi Mayor Warsheen Mayi told VOA by telephone that the operation did not target civilian areas. But Iqbal Omer, a freelance journalist, said civilian properties were damaged in the latest airstrike.

Turkish interests in northern Iraq go beyond the fight against the PKK. Turkey has a significant economic interest in the region, particularly in the energy sector. Turkey is also seeking to expand its influence in the region to counterbalance Iran’s growing power.

Some experts have suggested that Kurdistan, whose area is estimated at 700 billion cubic meters [25 trillion cubic feet] of natural gas, could become an important energy supplier for Turkey and Europe as the world tries to rid itself of its dependence on Russian gas.

“Europeans are looking for new potentials to supply gas to Europe,” said Nahro Zagros, nonresident senior fellow at the Washington-based Gold Institute for International Strategy.

“The KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) can be one of those potentials. That said, the KRG can’t fill all the void the Russians will leave in Europe, but it can help in some ways, and that can’t be achieved without Turkish support,” he added.

Safeen Dizayee, head of the KRG’s external relations department, said after meeting domestic supply, his government was open to the idea of ​​exporting natural gas to Europe.

“The Kurdistan region is not trying to become an alternative to other countries,” he told VOA. “That’s why it will initially use most of its extracted gas to meet domestic needs. Later, some of the gas can be exported to other parts of Iraq if they need it. In the years to come, when the Kurdistan region opens up more to the world, it could undoubtedly export some of the gas.

Dizayee added that Turkey, which serves as a bridge for the landlocked Kurdistan region to the outside world, will be a major gas export partner.

Others, like Sulaymaniyah-based Izzat Sabir, an economist who headed the Kurdistan parliament’s finance and economy committee, say the region must first solve its internal political problems and meet domestic demand. before you can focus on becoming an exporter.

Not all Kurdish politicians agree with the idea of ​​exporting gas from the region via Turkey.

“I think it is the official decision of my party that we will not allow the sale of natural gas via Turkey as oil is sold,” said Rekawt Zaki, a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan ( UPK), which controls some of the largest gas fields in the region at Chamchamal.

“The future of the Kurdistan region is natural gas, not crude oil. Crude is running out in many areas,” economist Sabir said.

“Iraq imports billions of dollars worth of natural gas from Iran and other neighboring countries. Although the domestic demand for gas has not been met, we in the Kurdistan region should not think about sign agreements to export natural gas,” Sabir added.

Mutlu Civiroglu, Zhiyar Mohammed and Rikar Hussein contributed to this story from Washington.

This story was born in the Kurdish service of VOA.

Sharon P. Juarez