Governments sometimes resort to terrorism to achieve short-term goals. This is no secret. Even the leader of the "war against terror", the United States, is not averse to using terrorism when it suits Washington to do so, either directly or indirectly through proxies.
Such proxies do not believe in dialogue, do not recognise borders and do not submit to anyone's wishes except their own, and although these may align with this party or that party at some time, one day soon they will turn against them. This has happened and continues to happen in northern Iraq, where the Baghdad government, under clear Iranian pressure, opened the door for the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey has placed on its terrorist list. The PKK made the Sinjar Mountains its base during the war against Daesh; its role was welcomed by everyone. However, the matter did not stop there; it went further, beyond the acceptable framework, even in some countries which have welcomed dissidents throughout their history.
The Baghdad government embraced the PKK and paid its fighters' salaries as part of its intense rivalry with the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. It was also part of a political rivalry with Turkey, which Iran encouraged and is why the group is based in the Sinjar region.
Moreover, Baghdad used PKK fighters against the Iraqi Kurds in Kirkuk, which the latter believe to be part of their region. So close was the relationship that some PKK fighters were given citizenship and nominated as candidates in the 2018 election. This revealed a lack of wisdom in Baghdad, and it angered Turkey, Iraq's northern neighbour, as well as the Iraqi Kurds.
Last October, the governments in Baghdad and Erbil signed the Sinjar Agreement, which provided for the removal of all irregular armed forces from the area where the PKK fighters are stationed. The Iraqi federal forces were to take back control of this vital area, and work to rehabilitate and restore its security, after it had been a hotspot for violence and armed activity. Several months have passed by, and none of the terms of the agreement have been implemented on the ground, according to the Interior Minister of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Rebar Ahmed in April. He said that the number of PKK fighters is increasing, and the Baghdad government is not reacting towards the enclave, which has effectively been outside of the federal government's control for years.
Turkey designated the PKK as a terrorist organisation, and its operations against the group have spread over into Iraq, in line with an old agreement between Baghdad and Ankara, which allows each country to pursue armed elements within the borders of the other, as long as they represent a threat to national security. Ankara has not paid much attention to the many statements issued by Baghdad condemning and denouncing such assertiveness within the borders of Iraq, because of the old agreement. Moreover, Turkey is well aware that the Baghdad government does not have the political will or ability to end the PKK presence as long as Iraq's policies are subject to diktats from Tehran, which sees the group as a card to use against Turkey whenever needed.
Furthermore, elements of the Turkish-Kurdish militants went too far by engaging not only with Turkish forces but also the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq. This happened this week, for example, when the PKK launched an armed operation that killed five members of the Peshmerga.
An armed confrontation against such elements of the PKK has thus become necessary. The group's fighters must be expelled as a matter of urgency, not just to avoid more Turkish incursions into Iraqi territory, but also to protect Iraq's security. The PKK is now completely under Tehran's wing, which basically makes it immune to any action by the Iraqi government in Baghdad.
Mustafa Al-Kadhimi's government may not be interested at this particular time to open a new front against the PKK. From Baghdad it looks as if the most dangerous and important battle could take place in the far north of Iraq, especially after the Shia militias loyal to Iran bared their teeth at his government. However, this will mean, among other things, more Turkish incursions into Iraqi territory, as well as confrontations that may erupt, at any time, between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the PKK. This may make the area an opponent of the pro-Iran militias that previously launched several missile attacks on Erbil.
The terrorism of the PKK is no less a threat than Daesh terrorism. As such, international action is needed against the organisation. However, the US Embassy statement condemning the "Kurdish" attack on the Peshmerga suggests that there is no American intention to punish the PKK or take action to support the Sinjar Agreement. At the very least, Washington should support the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which seem to be the spearhead in the fight against the PKK and the very real threat that it poses to the security of northern Iraq, despite everything that has happened in the country since the 2003 US invasion and occupation.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 8 June 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.