Istanbul: Turkey is planning s to launch a new cross border military incursion in the next week to oust the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from the Sinjar region of northern Iraq, a report said on Thursday.
The report in the pro-government Yeni Safak daily was not immediately confirmed by Turkish officials but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has over the last days indicated an operation in northern Iraq could be in the offing.
Turkey last week announced it had completed its half-year Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria against Daesh and Kurdish militants, although it is keeping a presence to maintain security in towns now under control of pro-Ankara Syrian rebels.
But Erdogan this week said Euphrates Shield was only a “first stage” and new military operations were being planned, including for Sinjar.
Yeni Safak said the new operation would begin in late April or May, after Turkey’s crucial April 16 referendum on expanding Erdogan’s powers.
It will be called Tigris Shield after the other great river in Mesopotamia, it added, and involve thousands of tanks, vehicles and artillery pieces used in the Syria operation.
Yeni Safak claimed the PKK had built up nine camps in the Sinjar region after moving in from 2014 to oust Daesh militants who have massacred the area’s Yazidi residents.
It said the aim of the operation would be to cut off any contact between Sinjar and the Qandil mountain area in Iraq to the further north, where the PKK has its main rear bases.
The incursion would also prevent cooperation between the PKK in Iraq and Kurdish militia in Syria that Ankara accuses of being the Syrian wing of the PKK.
A key base would be Bashiqa, outside the city of Mosul, where Turkey has maintained a military presence much to the annoyance of the Baghdad government.
Such an operation would risk raising tensions with Baghdad and also the United States, which has kept a wary eye on Turkey’s unilateral incursion into northern Syria.
After a ceasefire and peace process collapsed in 2015, the Turkish government vowed to destroy the PKK which has waged a bloody insurgency since 1984.
From 2015, the Turkish air force has bombed PKK camps in Qandil mountain but this would be the first major ground operation in Turkey’s neighbour.