Turkish forces are carrying out military operations deep within Iraqi territory
Baghdad denies giving support for Turkish anti-PKK operation
Turkey has said it will continue military operations against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, despite Baghdad saying it had not given permission for their incursion into its sovereign territory.
Turkish defence minister Nurettin Canikli said on Tuesday that operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) would ramp up near the Iran-Iraq border and would continue until “all terrorist groups are eliminated”.
Iraq for its part has denied acquiescing in foreign military operations within its borders.
The Turkish army carried out more strikes against the PKK's bases on Tuesday morning in Iraq's Qandil Mountains near the Iranian border in preparation for a larger offensive. The PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey's largely Kurdish south-east and is listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States and Turkish governments and the European Parliament.
When Turkey conducted its last major incursion against the PKK in northern Iraq in 2008, two dozen Turkish troops and several hundred Kurdish guerrillas were reportedly killed. The incursion, named Operation Sun by the Turks, ended indecisively, with both sides claiming victory.
Mr Canikli told state-run Anadolu news agency that Ankara was in full agreement with Baghdad on the operation in Iraq’s north-east.
Iraq denied allowing a major Turkish operation against PKK strongholds, however.
"The Iraqi government will not accept any advance on its land by Turkish forces in pursuit of the PKK elements currently present in the Sinjar, Makhmour and Qandil mountains," Saad Al Hadithi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, told the Iraqi News Agency on Tuesday.
But, he added, the Iraqi government would "absolutely not allow" any aggression from inside its land against Turkey or other states.
Mr Canikli also said Turkey had approached Iran about carrying out the operation in Qandil, and received support from Tehran on the offensive, but said that "no progress has been made on that issue".
The minister said there were "serious attacks and infiltrations" into Turkey from Qandil and that troops have deployed roughly 30 kilometres inside northern Iraq, not far from the Qandil Mountains.
Turkey's ongoing cross-border operation destroyed 12 PKK targets on Tuesday in overnight air strikes, the Turkish military said, as they continued operations against targets in the Qandil, Hakurk and Avasin-Basyan regions.
The targets included PKK shelters and ammunition depots, the military said, adding that 34 PKK members had been "neutralised" between June 1 and 8.
The military uses the term "neutralised" to refer to operations in which opposition forces have been killed, wounded or captured.
The escalation of the offensive comes a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces presidential elections on June 24, said Turkey would drain the "terror swamp" in Qandil.
“Mount Qandil, Sinjar, we’ve started operations there,” Mr Erdogan said at a campaign rally in the central Anatolian city of Nigde.
“We destroyed 14 important locations,” he said, vowing that the air strikes would continue to “dry up the biggest swamp”, Mount Qandil.
Turkish forces began the latest operation against PKK fighters in March.
Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed the need of a united front and "joint action" against the group.
"Ankara is working alongside Washington, Baghdad and Erbil to combat the PKK," he said after meeting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.