News Analysis: Turkish military operation in N. Iraq to continue despite Iraqi protests: experts

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BAGHDAD, April 28 (Xinhua) -- Turkey is expected to continue its military operation on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, despite the rising tension between the two countries, Iraqi experts said.

On April 18, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced that a Turkish air and ground operation, dubbed Claw-Lock, was launched to target the PKK hideouts in the Metina, Zap, Avashin-Basyan, and Qandil areas in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the EU, has been rebelling against the Turkish government for more than 30 years.

Turkey's operation has strained its ties with Iraq's central government in Baghdad, which has accused Turkey of violating Iraq's territorial integrity and national sovereignty, as the operation was carried out without coordination with the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi government summoned the Turkish ambassador to Baghdad and handed him a strongly-worded letter of protest over the Turkish operation. Baghdad also denied claims by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the Iraqi government and the regional Kurdish leaders supported the Turkish operation.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry has urged Turkey to withdraw its forces and stop violating Iraq's sovereignty, stressing that Iraq would continue to work through diplomatic channels to end the Turkish operation.

Baghdad's stance angered Turkey, whose foreign ministry summoned the charge d'affaires of the Iraqi embassy to express its "discomfort over the baseless allegations" by the Iraqi authorities against Turkey's military operation.

Ankara prefers that the Iraqi authorities eliminate the PKK, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic said in a statement, adding that Turkey would continue to take the necessary measures of self-defense under the UN Charter as long as Iraq fails to take concrete steps against the PKK.

Iraqi political experts believe that the Iraqi government and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region have limited options in dealing with the Turkish operation due to their weak political and economic positions, as well as their military inability to confront the powerful Turkish forces.

Two days before the Turkish operation, Masrour Barzani, prime minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which has strong economic ties with Turkey, met with Erdogan in Istanbul. A KRG statement issued after the meeting said that Barzani and Erdogan discussed "bilateral ties, with an emphasis on increasing cooperation on security in the region."

Nadhum Ali Abdullah, an expert of the Arab Forum for Political Analysis, said that the timing of Barzani's visit and the statement about security cooperation illustrated the KRG's consent to the Turkish operation against PKK rebels.

Turkey is Kurdistan's largest economic partner with many Turkish companies operating in the region in various fields, including exporting the KRG's oil and gas through Kurdistan's pipeline to Ceyhan port on the Mediterranean Sea.

"Such economic ties give Turkey more leverage over the KRG and push the KRG not to take any action that would jeopardize the region's vital interests with Turkey despite the Turkish cross-border operation," Abdullah said.

The KRG constantly holds the PKK responsible for crimes against civilians such as killings and kidnappings in border villages in the Kurdish region, in addition to causing the displacement of hundreds of villages.

Barzani, a Kurd, cannot kick out the PKK rebels from Iraq's Kurdistan because they are Kurds with a powerful and well-organized militia. But he does not mind Turkey's operation to kick the PKK out of the Iraqi Kurdish region, said Abdullah.

Ali al-Mousa, an Iraqi political analyst, noted that despite Baghdad's official protests against the Turkish operation, no further measures have been taken on the ground.

This hinted that "the Iraqi leaders were embarrassed and forced to show a strong stand against the military operation, but they cannot go further due to Baghdad's limited options," he said.

However, al-Mousa believed that Baghdad can benefit from the Turkish operation despite the embarrassment as the Iraqi forces cannot enter the territory of the autonomous region, and it also saves the effort of the Iraqi forces to clear the mountainous border areas of foreign rebels.

Despite the tension, Iraq is still keen on maintaining its economic and political relations with Turkey. Iraq urgently needs to secure its water share from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which originate from Turkey, as it is currently suffering from a drought caused by the scarcity of rain in recent years, al-Mousa said.

Due to the political instability and division in Iraq, Turkey is likely to continue its military operations against the PKK in northern Iraq to eliminate a major threat to Turkey's security, he said.

Such operations are also expected to lead to more political rifts among Iraqi factions, some of which "show an understanding of the importance of such operations to Iraqi and Turkish national security, while some others criticize the operations as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty," al-Mousa added. Enditem

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