Iraqi-Turkish Diplomacy and PKK Activity

Turkish Airstrikes on the PKK: 

  • On March 19, Turkey conducted airstrikes on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in the Metina, Zap, Hakurk, Gara and Qandil locations of northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
    • The operation came in response to the fatality of a Turkish soldier in an attack attributed to the PKK. 
    • 27 targets were reportedly destroyed as a result of the airstrike campaign. 
  • In the last four months, the PKK has conducted three attacks against Turkey, killing more than 20 soldiers. 

Iraqi-Turkish Diplomatic Activity: 

  • Last week, an Iraqi-Turkish joint statement announced the Iraqi National Security Council’s decision to designate the PKK as a banned organization in the country. 
    • According to statements made by Turkish advisors, this marks the first time that the countries would “jointly fight against PKK terrorism.”
    • Stopping short of Ankara’s wishes, Iraq did not designate the PKK as a terrorist organization. 
    • The agreed-upon designation bans the group from launching attacks against Turkey from Iraqi territory. 
  • This development coincides with surging diplomatic activity between Iraq and Turkey, as senior Turkish officials visited Baghdad on Thursday to discuss security, energy, and defense issues and partnership opportunities.
    • Recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Defense Minister Yasar Guler have also “hinted at the possibility of a summer cross-border military operation to bolster security along the Turkish-Iraqi border and fortify Turkish military points in the region.”
    • As a result of the engagement, the two countries will form joint committees to “work exclusively in the fields of counterterrorism, trade, agriculture, energy, water, health, and transportation.”
  • Erdogan is expected to visit Iraq before the end of April.

Who is the PKK?

  • The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is based out of northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S., and the EU. 
  • Created in the late 1970s, the PKK is now “embedded in a regional constellation of groups that seek international legitimacy and Kurdish autonomy.” 
    • Its operational tactics, which include improvised explosive devices, small arms, grenades, car bombs, and other weapons, threaten Turkish forces and civilians and complicate Turkey’s relationship with the U.S., which has worked with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group with alleged ties to the PKK, on counterterrorism initiatives. 
  • Turkey-PKK peace talks collapsed in 2015. Since then, Turkey has responded to the Kurdish threat with military operations and has established military posts in northern Iraq. 
    • While Turkey argues it is protecting its border, Iraq believes the operations violate its sovereignty
    • Experts say the new Iraqi-Turkish agreement may help prevent “unilateral” Turkish military actions inside Iraq’s borders.



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