Turkish Jets Strike Kurdish Militant Targets In Northern Iraq

On Sunday, June 14th, warplanes took off from various air bases in Turkey directed at multiple Kurdish targets in various regions of northern Iraq, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)’s Qandil stronghold. The Turkish Defence Ministry said that these actions came in response to an increase in militant attacks on Turkish army bases. The operation, codenamed Operation Claw-Eagle, hit suspected PKK targets in several regions in Iraq’s north. The operation targeted multiple areas and was coordinated among several air force bases. The Turkish military claimed in a Tweet that over 80 Kurdish targets in northern Iraq were hit. Reuters reported that the warplanes took off from various air bases in Turkey, notably in the southeastern cities of Diyarbakir and Malatya. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and refueling aircraft took part in the operation alongside the fighter jets, the military said. According to the Defence Ministry, the air operation targeted the PKK in the region of its stronghold at Qandil, near the Iranian border, as well as the areas of Sinjar, Zap, Avasin-Basyan and Hakurk.

On Twitter, the Defence Ministry said that “The Claw-Eagle Operation has started. Our planes are bringing the caves down on the terrorists’ heads.” It also said that “The PKK and other terrorist elements are threatening the security of our people and borders with attacks increasing every day on the areas of our outposts and bases.” Iraq’s military denounced the attacks. The Joint Operations Command accused Turkish forces of hitting a refugee camp and condemned the cross-border raid as a “provocative action.” “We deplore the penetration of Iraqi airspace by the Turkish planes which – at a depth of 193km from the Turkish border inside the Iraqi airspace – targeted a refugee camp near Makhmour and Sinjar,” the Joint Operations Command said in a statement. According to Sinem Koseoglu from Al Jazeera, some of the strikes were called off at the last minute over concerns of civilian casualties. 

The PKK is a Kurdish political and militant organization based in the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iraq. Since being founded in 1978, their goal has been to establish an independent Kurdish state in southeast Turkey, northern Iraq, and parts of Iran and Syria. The PKK has been involved in an armed conflict with Turkey since 1984, and is a designated terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, mostly focused in southeast Turkey. The primary targets have been Turkish Government security forces, local Turkish officials, and villagers who oppose the organization in Turkey. Turkish warplanes frequently target PKK targets in northern Iraq. In recent years, Turkey has also warned of a potential ground offensive targeting the PKK bases in the Qandil mountains.

Since 2005, Turkey and the PKK have been taking small steps in the direction of a peace process. However, there have been occasional grave setbacks, such as these strikes, which have prohibited the establishment of sustainable peace. The Turkish state has not made substantial attempts to make peace with the PKK in any real way, turning instead to “military solutions” such as the strikes that occurred on Sunday. These “military solutions” fail in establishing trust and increasing tolerance between the two groups, which is a crucial step in achieving sustainable peace. The first step in an effective peace process would be a declaration of a ceasefire in which conducive conditions are establ2ished for peace talks. The international community, especially the United States and the European Union, must pressure Turkey to promote peace and take an active part in the peace process. Eventually, political and constitutional changes need to take place in Turkey to create a more inclusive state that would set the stage for moving away from its existing problems. However, the first step towards peace in the short-term is to stop all military action and engage in productive peace talks.

The current centralized, authoritarian state position of Turkey may not be able to persist for much longer. Unless the conflict between Turkey and the PKK is resolved, the country is headed toward worse conditions and a possible civil war. Real actions toward peace have been postponed and ignored in the past, and there has never been any substantial move towards building trust and increasing tolerance between the two groups. Until a ceasefire is declared and proper peace talks can begin, the region will continue to be affected by the instability and violence that has stemmed from this conflict.

Hallie Kielb