This summer, clashes between Turkish forces and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK; Group Profile) in the southern region of Turkey escalated. The PKK has stepped up its incursions, using the EU-Turkey talks as an opportunity to draw attention to its cause. In retaliation, the Turkish government has increased its counter-operations, including staging 40,000 troops (source) on the border with Iraq .
The Turkish government stated that any country has the right to defend itself against terrorism and called for the Iraqi government to assist in curbing the Kurdish separatists operating out of northern Iraq. Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a warning to the Iraqi government that a lack of assistance would result in Turkey entering northern Iraq to defend itself from terrorism (source) . Turkey, anticipating the US’ interest in not to aggravate the Iraqi battle field further, issued the warning after repeated appeals to the US and Iraq met little reaction.
In response, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliqi banned the group, giving its reassurance that Iraq will support Turkey and stating: “We will not allow the PKK to shelter anywhere in Iraq” (source). He also announced his government’s decision to close down the PKK headquarters in Baghdad. Iraq is keen to fortify its central government by establishing constructive relationships with its neighbors, particularly those with secular governments, and enhancing regional security. In addition, their compliance follows the line of the US, which promised Turkey absolute support in their struggle with the PKK. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “The PKK is a terrorist organization, and we are dedicated and have dedicated ourselves to working with both governments, Iraqi and Turkish, to see that this terrorist organization is dealt with” (source). To help alleviate the conflict, the US will appoint an envoy to Turkey to coordinate efforts against the PKK.
Despite the toughened measures, the PKK reacted defiantly. Cemil Bayik, a member of PKK’s central committee, said that the group will not be defeated by the cross-border raids and that the only solution was for Turkey to grant the Kurdish people sovereignty. Recent incidents on the Turkish-Iraqi border confirm his stance, as clashes have dealt significant blows to the Turkish and allied security services. Bayik asserted:
“Turkey has fairly difficult problems and they know it. Economic problems, social contradictions, political contradictions are intense and, once more, Turkey’s problems with Europe, Cyprus [Country Profile] and partly [the] US are the main lines of the crisis…and our struggle aggravates the situation. Instead of solving these problems with a democratic solution for Kurdistan they concentrate on the elimination of the Kurdish liberation movement.”
The statement points to an asymmetric warfare strategy in which the PKK is taking advantage of their strength as a persistent separatist challenger, not aiming at defeating its adversary but at remaining a thorn in its side long enough for Turkey to agree to concessions. Furthermore, the PKK’s tactics have moved toward a political approach in calling for democratic rights and highlighting their deprivation before the international community?a tactic that has garnered sympathy from human rights organizations worldwide.
In a interview last week with the German Firat news agency, imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan said that the PKK will consider a ceasefire if the government ends the conflict and listens to the Kurdish minority’s demands and needs (source). Notwithstanding, the Turkish government seems uncompromising in their approach, and with the leverage from the most recent support from the US and Iraq, they are likely stand by their line of attack: not negotiating with the PKK.