Turkey-KRG alliance, PKK and the EU

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Sinem Cengiz

THE prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Nechirvan Barzani, was in Turkey this week for talks with top Turkish officials amid significant developments taking place in the region.
It was his second visit to Turkey this year and topics of discussion ranged from the ongoing Mosul operation against Daesh to the Euphrates Shield operation in Syria, and from Turkey’s fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to economic ties between the KRG and Turkey.
The fate of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with a population of 1.5 million, after it is liberated from Daesh is a great concern for both Ankara and Irbil.
Turkey’s approach to Mosul is shaped by concerns for the fate of the Turkmen there, the potential refugee flow, the situation in the post-Daesh era and PKK’s area of operation.
Peshmerga forces are playing a crucial role in the south, east and north of Mosul, so Irbil shares many similar concerns with Ankara. The situation in Sinjar is also among these concerns. During talks with Turkish officials, Barzani expressed concern over the possibility that Sinjar could serve as a second headquarters for the PKK in northern Iraq, stressing that the Peshmerga forces were working to get the upper hand in the area.
Turkey said that it would not allow Sinjar to become a new Mount Qandil and a logistics base that enables access between Syria and Iraq.
The Turkish government and the KRG have similar attitude regarding the situation in Syria’s north, which is to oppose any attempt by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) — the Syrian branch of PKK — to create a political entity in northwestern Syria under its control.
Tension between the KRG and the PKK is not new, but as the crisis in Syria deepened, the disputes among Kurds, particularly between the PYD and Barzani-supported Kurdish parties, have intensified.
The KRG premier’s visit came at a time Turkey issued a warrant for the arrest of PYD co-head Salih Muslim, who is regarded by the KRG not as a Kurdish leader but as a collaborator with the Syrian regime because of a February bomb attack in Ankara.
The Turkish government’s arrest warrant came a day after Ankara issued arrest warrants against other senior PKK militants. European hypocrisy Commenting on the arrest warrant against him, Salih Muslim said that European countries would not do so. Unfortunately he is right on this point.
PKK is on the terrorist list of European countries, but its members are quite free to parade in the streets of these countries, make propaganda, choose militants and threaten, not to mention harassing Turks living there.
PKK members are free to roam European capitals with posters of their imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and even swarm with its banners in the corridors of the European Parliament building, despite all warnings from Ankara.
Turkey has repeatedly urged European countries not to turn a blind eye to the activities of the PKK within their borders. However, seeing how Germans paraded Salih Muslim in the Bundestag and how other western leaders host him as a treasured guest, one could not stop questioning the so-called European principles and rules, not to mention their “sincerity” toward Turkey.
European countries, which do not miss a chance to state their “support” for Turkey’s fight against terrorism, somehow fail to align their rhetoric with their actions and measures against the terrorist group.
Moreover, this week the European Parliament adopted a temporary motion urging the European Union to halt temporary accession talks with Turkey. The coming days will show which way Turkish-EU relations will take. Turkey’s real ally: KRG?
In a region where European intentions are questionable, American moves are uncertain and proxies of the regional countries are apparent, Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government appears to be an Ankara ally.
Cooperation between Ankara and Irbil, which is based on mutual interdependence, security and economic and strategic interests, may even double down due to the uncertainties and challenges that could follow in the post-Daesh era, both in Iraq and in Syria. Amid all these developments, the battle for Al-Bab heats up in Syria.
An air attack by Syrian regime forces in Aleppo against the Turkish Armed Forces, which led to the death of three Turkish soldiers this week, was a striking development which risks turning everything even uglier. Moreover, Iran’s expansionist policy, its proxies in the region and its support for both Iraq and Syria is a reason for major concern for both Ankara and Irbil.
Looking at the bigger picture, there seems to be a Baghdad-Damascus-PKK axis, on the one hand, and the KRG-Ankara axis, on the other.
In view of the situation, Barzani and Turkish leaders agreed to open a KRG diplomatic office in Ankara in January 2017. It will be for the first time that Kurdistan will have a representation in Turkey.
These developments show the will of both sides to further strengthen ties at a time the region has become more and more embroiled in conflicts.
•Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes mainly on issues regarding Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. She can be reached on Twitter @SinemCngz

—Courtesy: Arab News