Erdogan tests Iraq’s sovereignty in latest round of airstrikes

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi must draw a red line to thwart Turkey’s aggression.

Turkish airstrike in northern Iraq killed two high-ranking Iraqi security officials on Tuesday. The attack occurred in the Sidekhan area, a remote mountain region near the Turkish-Iraqi border, which has long been a target of Ankara’s raids and airstrikes. The strike targeted a vehicle belonging to the two border guard commanders who were previously engaged in discussions with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkish forces frequently target the PKK in Iraq, a group designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the European Union. In the last year, however, Turkey has escalated its military campaign along its shared border with Iraq.

The latest attack marks the first time members of the Iraqi forces have been killed since Turkey launched two parallel land and air operations, Operation Claw-Tiger and Operation Claw-Eagle, in June. Turkey’s defense ministry claimed more than 150 targets were struck by rocket launchers and artillery guns during the joint operations. Ankara justified this military campaign as a necessary counter-terror measure against PKK militants. Since the onset of these operations, at least five civilians have been killed.

The Iraqi military immediately denounced Turkey’s latest military campaign as a “flagrant aggression.” The Turkish ambassador, Fatih Yildiz, was summoned to submit a letter of protest over the airstrike by the Iraqi foreign ministry due to Turkey’s “violations and breaches, including the latest drone attack which killed two officers and a solider.” Iraq’s foreign ministry then announced Baghdad would cancel a planned visit by Turkey’s defense minister.

Although Turkey’s military incursions targeting Kurds in Iraq are not new, Baghdad’s response to its latest round of hostilities is unprecedented. Iraq’s newly instated prime minister, Kadhimi, has pledged to reexamine some of Baghdad’s regional relationships. Kadhimi’s political platform centers on the prioritization of Iraq’s sovereignty and condemnation of foreign intervention in the country. He has consistently denounced Iran’s interference in Iraq’s political sphere, as well as the scope of US military presence on the ground.

Although Kadhimi views Turkey’s military presence in Northern Iraq as a threat to its sovereignty, he will likely stop at diplomatic measures to counter Ankara’s violations. Kadhimi is currently grappling with escalating US-Iranian conflict on Iraqi soil, economic collapse, the spread of coronavirus and rebuilding his citizens trust in government. The prime minister cannot afford to completely cut off ties or to wage military action against its neighbor amid this uncertainty. Ankara’s surge in military action in the Iraq’s northern districts is likely intended to test the prime minister’s resolve in countering foreign presence. In fact, Turkey’s foreign ministry announced it would sustain its cross-border operations against Kurds in northern Iraq as long as Baghdad continues to “overlook the militants’ presence in the region.”

Under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has inserted itself in numerous regional conflicts. Erogdan’s escalating policies and rhetoric have led Turkey down a path of religious extremism and authoritarianism in recent years. Specifically, Ankara’s actions in Syria, Libya and the Mediterranean have solicited strong condemnations from the international community. The Arab League and its parliament have officially pledged to support Iraq’s sovereignty and condemned Turkish aggression and military action in the region. The UAE minister of state for foreign affairs separately denounced Ankara’s latest airstrike, and promised to “stand by the brotherly state of Iraq in the face of continuous Turkish violations against its sovereignty.” Egypt’s officials similarly rebuked Turkey’s assault as a “threat to regional security.”

Although Kadhimi’s response to Turkey’s latest round of hostilities is unprecedented, Ankara will likely escalate its operations until a red line is drawn.

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.