Iraq bans PKK ahead of Erdogan's visit: analysis

Iraq bans PKK ahead of Erdogan's visit: analysis

Shafaq News/ Iraq's National Security Council banned the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant group fighting for self-rule against Turkey, a move described as "key concession" to Turkiye by analyists in Amwaj Media. The move comes ahead of an expected visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan next month and follows years of Turkish pressure. The PKK, designated a terrorist organization by the US and EU, has been embroiled in a decades-long insurgency for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey, with its strongholds based in northern Iraq.

"A decision that will be a turning point!" Nuh Yilmaz, a chief advisor at the Turkish foreign ministry, wrote on social media following the announcement.

The decision follows high-level talks in Baghdad on March 14th between Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan. According to a joint statement, "Both sides stressed that the PKK organization represents a security threat to both Turkiye and Iraq, and it is certain that the presence of the organization on Iraqi territory represents a violation of the Iraqi constitution." Notably, Iraq stopped short of labeling the PKK a terrorist group, despite Ankara's demands.

Analysts believe the ban is a calculated move by Iraq to improve strained ties with Turkey and unlock progress on stalled economic issues. "By banning the PKK, Iraq is in a better position to make progress on other issues with Turkiye," the report noted. These issues include stalled oil exports, trade, and water management. A key project, the "Development Road" that would connect Turkey to the Gulf through Iraq, could also benefit from improved relations.

"We desire to move forward with the Development Road," Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Bahr al-Uloom said.

The PKK, however, condemned the visit of Turkey's foreign minister. The Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), with close ties to the PKK, said that "the Turkish state has been pressuring and manipulating [Iraq] ... particularly over recent months," but also praised Baghdad for recognizing Kurdish rights under Iraq's constitution.

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a party accused by Turkey of harboring PKK links, also took a similar stance. The leader of the PKK leader praised the move and urged "every Kurd to conduct themselves in this manner."

Turkish President Erdogan has repeatedly warned of a major summer offensive against the PKK, specifically mentioning the need to "secure our Iraqi borders." This likely refers to establishing a buffer zone within Iraqi territory to prevent PKK cross-border attacks.

The report suggested the offensive will likely target the Matin and Kareh Mountains, where the PKK has a strong presence. Turkiye has a history of conducting airstrikes and establishing military bases in Iraq to target the PKK. An operation in February 2022, dubbed "Claw-Eagle 2," targeted alleged PKK bases in the Kareh Mountains.

The authors believe the PKK's entrenched presence in the rugged mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan makes a decisive Turkish victory unlikely. The ban of the PKK, while a concession to Turkey, may not significantly weaken the group on the ground, but will help Iraq make progress in other areas of interest.

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