Iraqi president meets Erdogan as Turkey strikes PKK targets

Iraqi President Barham Salih met with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Tuesday as Turkish forces launched a fresh offensive against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

The Iraqi president “stressed the need to safeguard Iraqi sovereignty and rejected any unilateral military action beyond Iraq’s borders,” according to a statement published by his office on Wednesday morning.

The closed-door meeting was attended by Iraq and Turkey’s respective foreign ministers, Iraqi’s national security adviser, and Turkey’s intelligence chief.

Turkey launched Operation Claw, a targeted air and ground offensive against the PKK, on Monday.

The aim of the operation is “to destroy the caves and shelters used by the terrorist organization and neutralize terrorists in the Hakurk region,” Turkey’s defense ministry said.

Hakurk is in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, close to its borders with Turkey and Iran. It is located just north of Qandil, where the PKK is currently headquartered.

Artillery shelling was followed by airstrikes, destroying weapons positions, shelters, caves, and ammunition depots used by the PKK. Turkey also launched commando operations.

Nine PKK fighters have been “neutralized” – a term used by the Turkish military to connote anyone killed, injured, or captured – according to the National Defense Ministry.

Iraqi and Turkish officials have held several rounds of talks in quick succession in recent months as Turkey ratchets up operations against the PKK on the Iraq-Turkey border.

The PKK’s mountain-based operations also tend to pick up during the warmer spring and summer months.

Earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi also visited Erdogan in Ankara. Security also topped the agenda.

In a press conference following their May 15 meeting, Abdul-Mahdi rejected the use of Iraqi soil to launch attacks on Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mehmet Cavusoglu visited Erbil and Baghdad a few weeks earlier. Iraq’s Foreign Minister Mohammad al-Hakim issued a statement following his meeting with Cavusoglu “strongly rejecting the use of its land for any military activities against Turkey.”

The PKK has fought a decades-long struggle with Turkey for great political and cultural rights for Kurds. Founded in 1978, the group began its armed insurgency in 1984. An estimated 40,000 people have died as a result of the conflict.

Other topics of negotiation between Iraq and Turkey are their shared water resources, trade, and the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline.