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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Iraq deploys troops to Sinjar following Turkey's push against PKK 

The decisions in Baghdad and Ankara threaten to create more instability after the latter’s military operation in Syria's Afrin

Armed Kurdish fighters from the PKK stand at attention after arriving in the Heror area, northeast of Dahuk, 430 kilometres northwest of Baghdad, Iraq on May 14, 2013. Ceerwan Aziz / AP
Armed Kurdish fighters from the PKK stand at attention after arriving in the Heror area, northeast of Dahuk, 430 kilometres northwest of Baghdad, Iraq on May 14, 2013. Ceerwan Aziz / AP

Iraq has deployed troops to the northern border region of Sinjar following Turkey’s announcement of a military operation against Kurdish rebels in the area.

The decisions in Baghdad and Ankara threaten to create more instability after the latter’s military operation in Syria's Afrin against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for decades.

“The 15th brigade of the army was deployed with heavy weaponry in the Sinjar district and the Sinun town,” said Iraq’s Brig Gen Yahya Rasool.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that if Baghdad’s operation against the PKK fails then his country “will do what is necessary” to clear the mountainous region of extremists.

Ankara’s head of intelligence, Hakan Fidan, is expected to meet with Iraqi officials on Monday in Ankara to discuss the potential operation in Sinjar.

“Our hope is that Iraq will complete the operation thoroughly. If not, let’s do our bilateral meetings and we will do what is necessary in Sinjar. We don’t have much tolerance,” Mr Erdogan said.

The PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States, has for decades been based in Iraq's Qandil mountain range, near the border with Iran.

Renad Mansour, senior research fellow at London’s Chatham House, told The National that Iraqi forces are concerned that the PKK is engaging in its own activities outside their jurisdiction.

“Turkey and Iraq seem to be in an agreement over Sinjar, they both have similar interests — to rule the area,” he said.

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Mr Erdogan said last week that the PKK was creating a new base in Sinjar, reiterating that Turkish forces would attack if necessary.

The Turkish military has been bombing suspected PKK camps in northern Iraq since 2015 after a ceasefire collapsed.

Sources in northern Iraq said on Friday the PKK would withdraw from Sinjar, where it gained a foothold in 2014 after coming to the aid of the Yazidi minority community, who were under attack by ISIL.

It is unclear how many remain in the area.

Sinjar province is home to the Yazidi community, which is set to face more violence if Turkey begins its operation.

“We must not let another tragedy take place in Sinjar, thousands of Yazidis have returned to their homes in Sinjar, now they fear for their lives again,” Nadia Murad, a Yazidi activist said on Twitter.

In Syria, Turkish backed forces have taken full control of the centre of the Syrian-Kurdish city of Afrin. After launching Operation Olive Branch in January, that aimed to rid the region of YPG fighters. Ankara regards the YPG group as an extension of the PKK.

In response, the YPG denies any direct links to the PKK.

Mr Erdogan has vowed to extend military operation along the border and on Sunday said the Turkish-led forces would take control of the town of Tel Rifaat.

Many civilians and YPG have gathered in and around Tel Rifaat after Turkey seized control of Afrin. It is a Kurdish-controlled enclave, cut off from a larger expanse of Kurdish territory in the northeast of Syria.

The United Nations said last week that around 75,000 people had been displaced to Tel Rifaat and surrounding areas from Afrin, and more were expected to come.