Turkish Strikes Test Iraq’s Fragile Sovereignty
Despite outrage over Turkish strikes in Iraq’s northern province of Dohuk earlier this month, there isn’t much Baghdad can do other than to lodge official complaints.
With these strikes, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, appears to be ready to launch a renewed assault on the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and eastern Syria. Erdogan’s repeated actions in Iraq and Syria have raised fears of a resurgence of ISIS and pose an existential threat to the sovereignty of the two countries.
For nearly twenty years, especially after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has been bleeding. Attacks in this country of 40 million people are not infrequent. But the Turkish artillery strikes that claimed the lives of Iraqis who were on vacation in a mountain resort in northern Iraq, is a unique tragedy that must be condemned. The victims – at least nine civilians, including two children – died before they could reach the hospital, while more than twenty others were wounded.
For decades, Ankara has carried out military operations in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. In 2008, Turkey sent troops to northern Iraq to expel the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
In a rare move, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi condemned Turkey for carrying out the strikes, despite Ankara’s denials and its call for a joint investigation with Baghdad. Despite Turkish denials, all tangible evidence confirms the Turkish military’s involvement in this unprovoked attack.
“This brutal attack underscored the fact that Turkey ignored Iraq’s continuous demands to refrain from military violation against Iraqi territory and the lives of its people,” al-Kadhimi said in a statement posted to Twitter.
The response of the paralyzed Iraqi state to such attacks is usually limited to condemnation and condolences. But this time the situation is different. Efforts to form a new government to succeed the current interim government are continuing, and Mustafa al-Kadhimi is seeking to have his name on the table of a committee formed by the coordination framework for selecting candidates.
The same applies to the position of the presidency, which the Kurdistan Democratic Party insists to be under its control. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is part of the KRI party in Erbil, summoned the chargé d’affaires from Turkey. Baghdad’s expected appointment of an ambassador in Ankara has also been postponed.
Barham Salih, the Kurdish president, condemned the attack on social media, in addition to similar angry statements issued by most of the country’s politicians.
The area around Dohuk has long been the target of Turkish military campaigns, targeting PKK militants. Ankara considers the separatist Kurdish group a terrorist organization, as does the United States and the European Union. But the PKK fighters did well during the war against ISIS and fought in defense of the Yazidis who were subjected to heinous human rights abuses, including rape, with some Yazidi girls being sold into slavery.
Erdogan has taken advantage of the escalating tensions between Moscow and Western capitals over the conflict in Ukraine, to ensure the West remains silent over its escalating military operations in northern Iraq as it prepares to send its forces into neighboring Syria to target the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a group that Ankara considers an offshoot of the PKK, while the United States considers it a strong ally.
It is speculated that Turkey, which is a member of NATO, agreed to the accession of Finland and Sweden on the condition that NATO looks the other way as Turkey launches renewed attacks against PKK militants.
Since the parliamentary elections in October last year, Iraqi political parties have entered into a fierce competition to form a new government. With continued political dysfunction, sectarian conflict and institutional corruption, the attempt to push back against renewed Turkish operations against PKK militants could be in vain before the formation of a strong central government. Until a permanent government is formed, Iraqi sovereignty will be viewed as malleable.