JEDDAH: The killing of 13 Turkish hostages in Iraq by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has sparked outrage and also a debate over the possibility of a large-scale operation by Turkey. The hostages were executed in the Gara region, inside a special PKK cave prison.
Hasshte claimed they were former soldiers and police officers, though Turkey has said they were civilians.
Turkey lost three of its troops during the cross-border operation, which began on Wednesday, while 48 PKK fighters were killed.
The PKK has been designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU. It has fought against the Turkish state since 1984, with more than 40,000 people killed so far.
Turkey said the hostages, who had been held for years, were killed by the PKK. But the People’s Defense Center, which is the military wing of the partisans, said Turkish forces shelled the cave, leading to the deaths of the hostages.
A military expert, who requested anonymity, said the captives were automatically considered civilians in Turkish military proceedings.
However, I do not expect a major operation in the region for now, the expert told Arab News. Winter conditions are so harsh there to support any military move.
Similar operations to free the captives from the hands of the PKK have been mediated by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
But such mediation has become impossible given the HDP’s alleged links to the PKK.
Turkish forces are now occupying several villages below the secret spot of Mount Gara, through which PKK fighters and their supplies must move, analyst Bill Park, a visiting researcher at Kings College London, told Arab News.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) seems to be going along with it because they are dependent on Turkey in many ways and because they also do not welcome the PKK presence. But it is clear that they are also embarrassed, as local Iraqi Kurds do not welcome Turkey’s presence and often suffer from its bombing and other attacks.
He added that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which has always been closer to the PKK and less trusting of Turkey, had been more critical of this intensified Turkish action.
Last year, following Operation Claw-Tiger against PKK insurgents along the PKK-held Qandil Mountains, Turkey was leaving its military footprint deeper in northern Iraq with plans to set up temporary bases in the region in order to target more good party secret places, roads and logistical skills.
Iraqi Kurds feared that this expanded presence would mean a longer and possibly permanent presence on their territory, he added.
It actually looks like Turkey is digging for a long stay, as in northern Syria as well.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party continue to call for the closure of the HDP. The recent PKK attack is likely to cause more political actors to repeat such demands blaming the HDP.
Park said the policy line from the new U.S. administration would also be a factor in Turkey’s moves to Iraq, as President Joe Bidens’s team is expected to focus on fighting Daesh remnants in Syria with the help of allies. locals, Syrian Kurds.
The Turkish approach is also complicated by the presence of Syrian Kurdish PYD / YPG forces in Syria and the anger of a growing number of increasingly radicalized young Iraqi Kurds. Indeed, Turkish actions in northern Iraq are partly driven by developments in northern Syria, Park said.
Turkey has been pressuring the US to end its policy of arming Syrian Kurds, who are in close contact with their branches in Iraq.
There is much more sympathy in Washington for the general Kurdish causes now, both in Congress and in the Biden administration. So Turkey’s diplomatic relations will be made more difficult by this attempt at a military coup, Park said.
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