Turkish military activities in Iraq ‘legitimate,’ says defence minister

Ankara and Baghdad are due to set up a co-ordination committee

In this photo taken Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, a Turkish army tank moves, in Silopi, near the Habur border gate with Iraq, southeastern Turkey. Tanks with Turkish and Iraqi soldiers holding the Turkish and Iraqi flags rolled on a field as the two countries' militaries conducted joint exercises on Turkey's border with Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region. (Pool photo via AP )
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Turkish military operations against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq are "legitimate", Iraqi Defence Minister Juma Anad said this week, amid Ankara's intensified operations against insurgents.

Since last June, Turkey has been waging a military operation against members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) based in northern Iraq.

Since the 1990s, Ankara has made several cross-border incursions into Iraq to fight the militant group, which maintains bases in the region. Not all of these operations have a specific green light from Baghdad, and the issue has been increasingly controversial among Iraqi political parties.

“Turkey’s violations of Iraq’s sovereignty has justifications, which is that the Turkish army is fighting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who are located in lands of Kurdistan Region and northern Iraq,” Mr Anad said at a conference on Monday.

Commenting on Iraq’s sovereignty, Mr Anad said that Iraq’s problems began after US forces entered the country to overthrow the former regime. The country, he said, supported international laws and treaties.

The Iraqi government is in the process of establishing a joint Iraqi-Turkish centre to manage military operations, he said.

“Currently we have joint co-ordination with Turkey, but not with all incidents and operations,” he said.

He also said people should not “link joint Iraqi-Turkish co-ordination and Turkish behaviour with the issue of the sovereignty of Iraq.”

Turning to the issue of Iraq receiving support from the US-led coalition against ISIS, the Iraqi minister said the presence of foreign troops in Iraq was based on a request from the government.

“The government has requested the support of the international coalition forces to confront ISIS during its incursion into the country's northern cities and its approach to Baghdad and the cities of the Kurdistan Region,” he said, referring to the crisis in 2014 when ISIS captured one third of the country.

The Iraqi army, Mr Anad said, was established in “abnormal conditions” in light of the emergence of Al Qaeda and "sectarian and racist" political differences.

“The formation of the army was not built on correct foundations,” he said.

The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and maintains bases in the mountains of neighbouring northern Iraq.

Baghdad has repeatedly summoned the Turkish ambassador over Ankara's cross-border military campaign.

Concurrently, the Erbil-based Kurdish Democratic Party, one of the two ruling parties in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, has been less hostile to Turkish incursions and maintains close ties with Ankara.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country would deal with the PKK presence if Iraq was unable to do so.

During the past 25 years, Turkey has established a dozen military bases in Iraq’s northern region. It launched a new cross-border offensive against the PKK in the spring, comprising aerial and ground operations.

Iraq has not taken action against Turkey as it considers Ankara to be a vital economic partner.

But relations have been strained recently by the drop in water levels in the Euphrates and Tigris rivers after Turkey built a series of dams upstream, threatening available water supplies in Iraq for agriculture and domestic use.

Updated: August 31, 2021, 11:13 AM