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Türkiye to provide Iraq technical help to bolster border security

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The neighbors are discussing a possible security cooperation deal that would greatly limit the movements of PKK terrorists in the region

Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed S. Al Sudani (L) welcomes President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (C) upon his arrival at the Baghdad International Airport at the start of his official visit, Baghdad, Iraq, April 22, 2024. (AFP Photo)
Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed S. Al Sudani (L) welcomes President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (C) upon his arrival at the Baghdad International Airport at the start of his official visit, Baghdad, Iraq, April 22, 2024. (AFP Photo)

Türkiye is prepared to provide Iraq with technical assistance for securing its borders to prevent the mobility of the PKK terrorist group around the region, according to a Defense Ministry official on Thursday.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Baghdad and Irbil this week as Ankara ramped up cross-border operations against PKK militants based in mountainous northern Iraq, ruled by the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

During the visit, the two countries agreed to a strategic framework agreement overseeing security, trade, and energy and a defense cooperation deal.

“We told our counterparts that Türkiye is ready to assist Iraq on border security systems,” the Turkish official told reporters.

The official said that a delegation from Iraq visited Türkiye to examine the border security systems that Türkiye offered to provide, adding that the discussions for security cooperation and joint military training were still underway.

Ankara plans a new swoop in on the PKK militants this spring and says Iraqi cooperation is paramount to eradicating the group “at its roots.”

During a joint news conference with Erdoğan on Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed S. Al Sudani said the two countries would cooperate to bolster border security without mentioning the PKK.

The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 and is designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and its Western allies.

Since Turkish operations have driven its domestic presence to near extinction, the PKK has moved a large chunk of its operations to northern Iraq, including a stronghold in the Qandil Mountains, located roughly 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of the Turkish border in Irbil.

Türkiye has, over the past 25 years, operated several dozen military bases in northern Iraq in its war against the PKK, as well as the war against Daesh, which controlled much of the area, in 2014 and 2015, when Ankara was an ally in the U.S.-led anti-Daesh campaign.

Ankara launched Operation Claw-Lock in April 2022, the latest in the string of cross-border “Claw” offensives kicked off in 2019, to demolish terrorist lairs across Metina, Avashin-Basyan, Zap and Gara districts and prevent the formation of a terror corridor along Turkish borders.

The PKK carried out attacks, killing more than a dozen Turkish soldiers in the past two months in Metina. The high toll led to an increase in Turkish operations, which sometimes take place deep into Iraqi territory.

The operations have regularly strained bilateral ties, but officials have repeatedly assured Türkiye’s respect of Iraq’s sovereignty and commitment to only targeting terrorists.

Separately, Defense Ministry spokesperson Zeki Aktürk said Ankara welcomes Baghdad’s designation of PKK as a “banned group” and expects it to be recognized as a “terrorist group” soon.

“We’re hoping the fight against terrorism will continue on a more stable foundation with the strategic framework agreements signed in Baghdad,” he added.

54 terrorists eliminated

Aktürk also announced the weekly toll of Türkiye’s counterterrorism operations in northern Iraq and Syria, where Ankara is fighting the PKK’s local offshoot, the YPG.

“A total of 802 terrorists have been eliminated, with 360 in northern Iraq and 442 in northern Syria since Jan. 1, 2024, including 54 terrorists in the past week alone,” Aktürk told reporters.

“Turkish forces continue fighting against terrorism with an increasing effectiveness and pressure on an unfamiliar, unpredictable level in line with the field’s necessities,” he noted.

He also said two PKK terrorists, who fled from shelters in northern Iraq, surrendered at a border post in Habur last Sunday.

A significant number of suspected terrorists have begun to abandon the PKK and surrender, but many terrorists lack the courage to leave the terrorist group out of fear of severe punishment if caught.

Illegal crossings

Regarding illegal border crossings into Türkiye, Aktürk said 284 people, including six members of terrorist organizations, were apprehended while attempting to cross within the past week.

Another 2,291 people were prevented from crossing the border as droves of irregular migrants tried to make their way to Europe through Türkiye.

“Since Jan. 1, the number of people caught while attempting to cross our borders illegally has risen to 2,769. The number of people prevented from crossing the border without success has reached 48,596,” Aktürk informed.

Türkiye has been a key transit point for irregular migrants who want to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrants flee civil conflict or economic hardship in their home countries with the hope of reaching Europe.

Cooperating with Germany

In response to questions about whether Erdoğan and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier discussed Berlin lifting defense restrictions on Türkiye during their meeting in Ankara earlier this week, the ministry official said Türkiye “hopes the conversation centers around joint projects rather than restrictions in the new era of relations with Germany.”

“As President Erdoğan expressed, we believe the issue of Eurofighters would be a good start and expect Germany to have a positive approach,” the official said.

Germany drastically reduced military exports to Türkiye after the latter launched counterterrorism operations against the PKK in Syria. Ankara has also complained that Germany was blocking the country’s acquisition of Eurofighter jets.