Turkish officials have announced that Turkey and Iraq have finalized details of a list of measures to be taken against militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) based in northern Iraq. The announcement came after a 90-minute meeting in Ankara between Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay and his Iraqi counterpart, Jawad al-Bulani.
According to the Turkish media, the agreement includes plans to establish liaison offices on the Turkish-Iraqi border and, provided that they have received prior permission from Baghdad, foresees Turkish security forces being able to conduct “hot pursuit” operations against PKK units that have fled Turkey into Iraq (Hurriyet, Radikal, Milliyet, September 27).
Speaking with Turkish reporters, Iraqi Interior Ministry Undersecretary Aidin Khalid confirmed that an agreement had been reached but declined to give details until it had been formally signed (Radikal, Zaman, September 27).
Al-Bulani’s visit to Turkey follows the signing in Ankara on August 7 by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamel al-Maliki and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in combating the PKK (see EDM, August 8). Initially, an Iraqi delegation had been expected to travel to Ankara in late August to finalize details of concrete measures to be taken against the PKK. Speaking on September 25, after meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Meeting in New York, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari dismissed Turkish suggestions that the delay in finalizing details of concrete measures to be taken against the PKK suggested a lack of political will on the part of the government in Baghdad. He insisted that the Iraqi government was committed to combating the PKK (Zaman, September 27).
However, it is debatable whether the measures cited by the Turkish media will have a significant impact on the PKK’s ability to infiltrate its militants into Turkey from the organization’s camps in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq. Turkey’s border with Iraq is long and mountainous and riddled with age-old smuggling routes. Even though they have installed sensors and night vision equipment on their side of the border, the Turkish security forces are still able to intercept only a small proportion of the militants attempting to enter Turkey. It is difficult to see how a handful of liaison offices will make much difference.
Similarly, the concept of “hot pursuit” is based on operational continuity. If a unit of the Turkish armed forces that is pursuing members of the PKK toward the Iraqi border has to ask Baghdad for permission to cross and then wait for a reply, in most cases the trail will rapidly go cold.
Even if the agreement is signed during al-Bulani’s current visit to Ankara, it is unlikely to have an immediate effect. In the mountains that straddle Turkey’s border with Iraq, the first winter snows usually start falling in late October and rapidly put an end to the campaigning season by blocking the passes used by the PKK.
In reality, the key to any measures against the PKK being effective lies in northern Iraq not in Baghdad. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil has long resisted cracking down on the PKK presence in the Qandil Mountains, not least because it fears the impact that such an operation could have on security in what is still one of the most stable regions in Iraq.
On September 26, the Turkish press quoted Iraqi Kurdish officials as telling the local Peyamner News Agency that any agreement on measures to be taken against the PKK would need the approval of the KRG and that none had been forthcoming. Peyamner quoted an Iraqi Kurdish militia spokesperson as warning that the Iraqi Kurds would resist any incursion by the Turkish military, even in hot pursuit of PKK militants. “No one will be allowed to enter the Kurdistan region or violate its sovereignty by crossing the border,” he said (Vatan, September 27).
Meanwhile, the Turkish military is continuing a major search-and-destroy operation against PKK units inside Turkey. On September 26, the Turkish military claimed to have killed Nazan Bayram in a firefight in the province of Hakkari. A 15-year veteran of the People’s Defense Force (HPG), the PKK’s military wing, Bayram was one of the organization’s highest-ranking female militants. According to the Firat News Agency, which enjoys close links with the PKK, at the time of her death Bayram was both a regional commander and a member of the HPG Representative Assembly (Dogan News Agency, September 26). However, the Turkish military is also continuing to take casualties. On September 27 two more soldiers were killed by a PKK mine (CNNTurk, September 27).