“We may come there overnight, all of a sudden,” Turkish president Tayyip Recep Erdogan said on Friday, when asked about a possible upcoming Turkish operation in Sinjar. This is the same phrase he has used before invading North-Syria. “Turkey is always ready to carry out joint operations against the PKK with Iraq but we cannot openly announce the date for such operations,” is what he stated to Turkish media.
Turkey’s struggle against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been an excuse to start cross-border operations into Syria and Iraq several times over the last few years in blatant violations of the countries’ sovereignty.
Turkish analysts argue that Ankara is intent on launching a military operation in Sinjar (Iraq), noting that the surprise visit of Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar to Iraq brought with it an offer to carry out a joint operation against the organization. Akar stated that Turkey is determined “to end terrorism” through cooperation with Baghdad and the KRG, and pointed out that the next phase in Turkish operations will witness important developments in this regard.
It is yet unclear whether the Iraqi government and/or the Kurdistan Region Government (KRG) have agreed to cooperate with Turkey in a large-scale military operation against the PKK.
Turkey and the Biden-administration
Turkey has had practically free play in the region for the last four years under the Trump-administration. Tensions that had existed between Turkey and the United States during the previous Obama-administration had been smoothed out by Trump’s friendly – almost cheering – approach to Turkey’s president Erdogan. These tensions might mount again in the next four years.
The first cracks in Turkey’s and the US’ fragile friendship have started to show even before Biden’s inauguration. Joe Biden’s secretary of state Antony Blinken accused Turkey of ‘not acting like an ally’ and said Washington would review if further sanctions are required on Ankara over its acquisition of the Russian air defense system S-400.
Turkey was fuming with anger when it learned that Brett McGurk has been given the position as the National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. McGurk has been widely criticized for designing the alliance between the US-led coalition and the people’s protection units (YPG) by Turkey.
On multiple events, the new president Biden has suggested that he would take stronger measures than former president Trump when it comes to Turkey’s actions in the region. This might make Turkey wonder how to anticipate the US’ possible reaction to large-scale military operations outside of Turkey.
Pulsing Biden’s reaction
Over the last three days, Turkey has started a series of small-scaled attacks in both Iraq and Syria. In the last 24 hours, they attempted to attack the M4 international road near Ayn Issa, injured a civilian near Ayn al-Arab with a drone attack, injured three civilians by shelling Iraqi villages near Duhok, wounded 2 children in a bombardement in the Amediye district of Iraqi Kurdistan, bombed Chikan village in the Balakeyeti area of Erbil province, and Turkish fighter jets bombed several sites near the Haji Omran border crossing between Iraq and Iran.
These attacks, combined with Turkey’s announcements and actions hinting at the possibility of a new invasion in areas where the PKK and its affiliates are active, it seems that Turkey is baiting Biden for a reaction. He is practically taking the new US president for a testride to pulse his administration’s possible reactions to a new Turkish invasion.
The next days or weeks will show us how the Biden administration will react to a new Turkish invasion of Kurdish-held territories. Biden will either start taking a hard stance by condemning, or even sanctioning, Turkey into compliance, or a string of New York Times op-eds whitewashing the impending invasion will appear as Biden silently condones Turkey’s behaviour.