Explained: How will Turkey’s strikes on ISIS and the PKK unravel?
Turkey's airstrikes against the PKK and ISIS has led to the escalation of regional tensions
Airstrikes launched by Turkey since Saturday against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq has led to the escalation of regional tensions and the termination of a fragile two-year-long truce.
The operation is being conducted in parallel with Turkey’s air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Ankara had not attacked northern Iraq since 2011. The PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy from Turkey for almost three decades, has been based in northern Iraq since the 1990s, mainly in the Qandil mountains near the border.
Following an airstrike that killed senior commander Servan Varto, the PKK announced the end of the ceasefire.
However, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the PKK had conducted 281 terrorist attacks inside Turkey since early July.
“These elements needed to be answered, and so they were. We will not let anyone threaten our democracy and public security,” he said.
The PKK responded by killing two policemen in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa on Wednesday, and a soldier on Monday in Adiyaman province.
On Sunday, two Turkish soldiers were killed in a car-bombing in the mainly Kurdish southeastern province of Diyarbakir.
The president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, Masoud Barzani, talked with Davutoglu on Saturday by phone and expressed “distress that the situation had reached that level.”
The KRG said: “All efforts should be dedicated in pursuit of the success of the peace process in Turkey.”
Washington said it “strongly condemned the PKK’s terrorist attacks in Turkey and we fully respect our ally Turkey’s right to self-defense. We also urge de-escalation and that both sides remain committed to the peaceful ‘solution process’ for a just and sustainable peace.”
However, Washington denied any connection between the airstrikes against the PKK and recent agreements to deepen U.S.-Turkish cooperation against ISIS.
Former Turkish official Aydin Selcen, a former and the first consul general in Arbil told Al Arabiya News that the airstrikes against the PKK were “more for public consumption than a response to a perceived national security threat.”
He added that Turkey’s “strategic relationship with the KRG” meant that bilateral ties would not be affected.
Sardar Aziz, a senior adviser to the KRG parliament, said Turkey’s latest airstrikes in northern Iraq would neither end the PKK nor be a game-changer.
“The Kurds are fighting on two fronts simultaneously, on the democratic front… and the anti-terror front. On both fronts, the Kurds are on the modern and civilized side,” Aziz told Al Arabiya News.
“Peace is the only way for Kurds and Turks to live together, and Turkey’s ambition of becoming a pivotal state in the Middle East won’t be achievable if Kurds are marginalized.”
Ankara is increasingly alarmed by the growing power of Syrian Kurdish fighters, and vowed last month not to allow a Kurdish state in northern Syria.
Aziz said the KRG supports the Syrian Kurds against Damascus, and welcomes their intention to govern themselves.
The European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security, Federica Mogherini, has urged Turkey to keep the peace process with the Kurds alive despite the ongoing operations.
Galip Dalay, research director Al-Sharq Forum, told Al Arabiya News that the “outbreak of violence… has the potential to bring the process to the verge of collapse, but at this stage it’s too early to suggest that the process is over.”
Dalay added that if the aerial bombardment is limited and short-lived, the process could be salvaged.