Turkey, Iran test new Iraqi PM’s resolve

Originally published by the Israel Hayom

On June 18, Baghdad summoned the ambassadors from Iran and Turkey to discuss their ongoing military operations against Kurdish groups in the country. For two weeks, Turkey and Iran have launched coordinated air and ground assaults targeting Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

Turkey’s cross-border operation took place in Haftanin, about nine miles from the Turkey-Iraq border. This campaign, dubbed “Operation Claw-Tiger,” targeted 150 suspected Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) positions, following a bombing campaign two days earlier targeting Sinjar and the Qandil mountains. Iranian forces simultaneously launched attacks against Iranian Kurdish groups in Northern Iraq.

These attacks took place in the Haji Omaran district which borders Iran. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps rationalized them as necessary measures against “armed anti-revolutionary groups” that are threatening the regime.

On June 15, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made an unannounced trip to Ankara. According to Iranian state media, Zarif said that his trip to Turkey was essential to discuss “bilateral issues and to discuss the resumption of economic relations, energy cooperation, and regional issues.”

Turkish airstrikes targeting northern Iraq began the day Zarif departed from the country, making one wonder if these attacks were addressed or planned in this meeting.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry issued statements condemning both Iran and Turkey for their ongoing operations in the country. It also summoned the Turkish ambassador and demanded his country ceases provocative military acts on Iraqi soil immediately. The statement addressed “the necessity of the Turkish side’s commitment to stop the bombing and withdrawal of its forces from Iraqi territories.”

Iranian Ambassador Iraj Masjedi was similarly rebuked for the IRGC’s attacks which resulted in property damages.

Baghdad’s response to these ongoing military operations will play a critical role in the future of the countries’ relations with their neighbors. Iraq’s new prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi entered into office amid a turbulent period, following nation-wide anti-government protests and a growing economic crisis.

In his premiership, al-Kadhimi pledged to protect Iraqi soil from non-state actors and those who compromise the countries’ sovereignty. Early this year, the Iraqi parliament issued a statement declaring the necessity of eliminating all foreign forces from the country. In recent US -Iraq strategic talks, Washington pledged to reduce its forces from the country and to discuss with the Government of Iraq “the status of remaining forces as both countries turn their focus towards developing a bilateral security relationship based on strong mutual interests.”

Al-Kadhimi has also made demobilizing Iranian-backed militias a central focus of his platform. The prime minister has expressed his intention to prioritize the passing of legislation which would prohibit Iraqi political organizations from conveying loyalty to non-state groups. If passed, this law would directly impact the Iranian-linked Popular Mobilization Units from gaining a foothold in Baghdad’s political scene.

While al-Kadhimi grapples with Baghdad’s domestic and regional position, Turkey is continuing its ongoing military operations across the region, covering Syria, Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. By carrying out these unprecedented coordinated attacks on Iraqi soil, Tehran and Ankara are testing al-Kadhimi’s resolve to keep foreign entities out.

About Maya Carlin

Maya Carlin is an analyst at the Center for Security Policy, located in Washington D.C. She is also a M.A. candidate in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security at IDC Herzliya’s Lauder School of Government in Israel.