Turkey sought to strike an alliance with Iraqi Kurds against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party's (PKK) terrorist campaign, in talks with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, who arrived in Turkey Thursday to meet with Turkish leaders.
Both sides signaled that they may be near reaching an agreement on a joint action plan, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu praised the growing cooperation between Turkish and Iraqi Kurds. Davutoğlu said that Turks and Kurds are “eternal brothers, ” following talks with Barzani late on Thursday. Davutoğlu warned, however, that this brotherhood is being threatened by one factor, namely terrorist acts carried out by PKK against Turkey from bases in Kurdish-run northern Iraq, and said that Turkey now expects the Kurdish administration to take a clear stance against terrorism and actively cooperate with Turkey in its counterterrorism efforts.
“Irrespective of which country they live in, Turks and Kurds are eternal brothers. This eternal brotherhood must be further strengthened and carried into the future,” Davutoğlu said at a joint news conference with Barzani late on Thursday, noting that Turkish-Kurdish cooperation is significant as the Middle East is going through a historic transformation. Turkish officials close to the talks said that in Thursday evening's meeting the foreign minister also told Barzani that the Kurdish administration can no longer remain “neutral” toward the PKK's activities.
Davutoğlu reiterated that Turkey expects the Iraqi Kurdish administration to take a clear stand against the PKK. “It is our right to expect everyone to take a clear stance against this terrorist organization,” he said. “We expect the Kurdish administration to offer active support and solidarity.”
Barzani who met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül on Friday, said in the news conference with Davutoğlu that nothing will be allowed to destroy the long-standing Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood. “Our security is interlinked. We will take every measure to further strengthen our security,” he said.
Professor Sedat Laçiner, president of Çanakkale’s 18. Mart University and former head of the think-tank USAK, said this time Turkey is determined to settle the PKK issue, and is trying to cooperate with Barzani against the terrorist organization. During the press conference, Barzani seemed quite tense. The reason for this, according to Laçiner, is that Barzani wants to gain Turkey’s friendship without paying any price. “But Barzani has no choice here. He wants the friendship of Turkey without fighting the PKK. And that’s just impossible,” he told Today’s Zaman.
Davutoğlu gave Barzani a clear message about Turkey’s stance, implying that no neutrality on the PKK issue will be accepted from now on.
Bilgay Duman, a Middle East analyst from the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), believes Barzani sees that he needs to maintain good ties with Turkey for the survival of the Iraqi Kurdish administration, and that he will meet with difficulties if he does not cooperate with Turkey. Bu he doesn’t think Barzani will agree to fight against the PKK together with Turkey. His line of reasoning is simple: First, Barzani sees the PKK both as a tool which gives him some leverage which he can use against Turkey. Secondly, there are still areas in northern Iraq that are under the control of the PKK, and people in those areas generally support the terrorist organization. Therefore, it would be difficult for Barzani to demand that the PKK leave the region. In such a case he would also lose some of the support of his people. So, Barzani might compromise by endeavoring to limit the freedom of PKK members to act in northern Iraq, as well as allowing the more permanent presence of Turkish military units, Duman believes.
Hasan Köni, a professor of international law at İstanbul-based Kültür University, is also of the opinion that Barzani will not agree to fight the PKK, and that Turkey’s chances of convincing him are low. “Barzani stated earlier that Kurds would no longer fight against the Kurds,” he says. Köni, who believes that Turkey’s hand is not strong in this issue, thinks Turkey should instead take the matter up with the US; because if any military intervention were ever to be allowed in the region, it would be the US who would give the go-ahead.
But Prof. Laçiner does not agree. He believes Barzani, who is also made uncomfortable by the rising Iranian influence in Iraq, needs a strong ally in the region, where instability tends to spread, given the developments in Syria and Iraq. A civil war is still a possibility in Syria, and the Kurds are not as strongly represented in the central government of Iraq as they used to be. And the American army is leaving Iraq, which will certainly render the situation in the country less stable. The future of Iraq is unclear. Adding that instability in Iraq would also adversely affect the Kurdish region, regarding an eventual military operation against the PKK, Laçiner adds: “Barzani has three choices: He will either conduct the operation himself, cooperate with Turkey, or let Turkey do it.” Laçiner differs with Köni about the US attitude concerning an operation against the PKK in the Kurdish region of Iraq. “Maybe the US has not expressed it openly, but they did say following the latest PKK attacks in Turkey, ‘This is a terrorist attack and the PKK is a terrorist organization which organizes its raids from Iraq. And Turkey has the right to take all necessary measures to defend itself’,” he says.
Laçiner also believes that with regard to an eventual Turkish intervention, the US would express their concern this time -- if at all -- in a much more limited way, and it’s precisely that which is causing Barzani to worry. “Turkey will reach a decision at the end of its talks with Barzani and it will go ahead with or without Barzani. Turkey is simply declaring its decision to Barzani now,” Laçiner adds.
Barzani arrived in İstanbul on Thursday for talks on cooperation against the PKK, which uses its bases in the mountains of northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkey. A PKK attack last month resulted in the deaths of 24 Turkish soldiers, prompting a cross-border offensive by the Turkish military in northern Iraq. Nechirvan Barzani, Massoud Barzani’s nephew and a senior official of in the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), rushed to Ankara following the attack to express solidarity. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who will meet Barzani on Saturday, said at the time that he invited Barzani to discuss cooperation against the PKK.
Ankara has complained about the Iraqi Kurdish regional administration’s inaction on the PKK’s presence in northern Iraq in the past, but, as relations have improved over the past years, Turkish officials are now seeking cooperation with the Kurdish government and Kurdish peshmerga forces in the fight against the PKK, designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU.