ISTANBUL, TURKEY - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to launch military operations in Iraq and Syria against the Kurdish rebel group the PKK, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization.
In a television interview to curry support for next week’s referendum to extend his presidential powers, Erdogan announced the military is preparing new cross-border operations against the PKK. He said Turkey's ending of Operation Euphrates Shield, which targeted both the PKK and Islamic State in Syria, was not the end of such incursions into its southern neighbor.
Erdogan said, "...future operations would have an Iraqi dimension along with a Syrian dimension.”
Observers point out that a tough stance against the PKK, which is fighting for minority rights, plays well with Turkish nationalists being courted by Erdogan in the referendum. Ankara has pledged to eradicate the Syrian Kurdish group the PYD and its YPG militia, which it accuses of being affiliated with the PKK.
The PYD controls large swathes of territory along Turkey’s border and the Turkish army has deployed a large military force on the frontier.
The United States and Russia strongly back the Syrian Kurdish fighters who comprise the backbone of Syrian Democratic Forces besieging Raqqa, Islamic State’s self-declared capital.
Washington’s deepening collaboration with the SDF, has seen it stepping up its presence in the PYD controlled region, “We see now four operational forward bases constructed by the United States, in addition to an extended airbase which will be operational,” said Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat who severed widely across the region.
Selcen warned such a deployment has implications for Ankara too, “The U.S. presence is definitely an insurance policy for the Kurds near future.”
Voices are increasingly warning any Turkish military incursion into the Syrian Kurdish region would risk serious repercussions beyond its fight against the PKK.
“It's not only going to be a matter of Turkish Kurdish relations, it's going to be Turkish Arab relations, Turkish Russian, Turkish American, Turkish Iraqi Turkish Syrian,” predicted Ertugral Kurkcu a deputy for the pro-Kurdish HDP in the Turkish parliament. “And maybe it's the abyss for Tayyip Erdogan if he cannot refrain from such miscalculated attempts. If this happens it's going to be total disaster for everyone. But I think others will help Turkey to refrain from such actions.”
Erdogan warns Turkish troops may intervene against PKK backed militia in the Iraqi Sinjar region, as well as also targeting its bases deep in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Observers point out such operations are fraught with military risks and the possibility of further exacerbating already tense relations among neighbors.
Despite such risks some analysts don't rule out such a military operation, “It's very difficult to know, if the president has been reckless enough to accuse Germany of Nazi like behavior you wonder how much rationality has been left in this administration,” political consultant Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners pointed out.
“I think it's a non-negligible possibility that there would be some kind of move against the Kurds directly from the border. I am very afraid of it because it would create a fire storm in the world community and it would mean war with the Syrian Kurds and could spread to Kurds in Turkey,” he said.
Observers point out Turkish foreign policy is increasingly falling victim to the referendum campaign. With opinion polls indicating the result remaining too close to call political calculations could well trump all other considerations in the coming days.