Conflict and Fragility

Policy briefs

Turkish interventions in its near abroad: The case of KRI (Iraq)

15 Mar 2022 - 12:17
Bron: President Nechirvan Barzanimet in Ankara with Turkey’s President Erdoğan on 2 February 2022. © The Presidency of the Kurdistan Region - Iraq
The case of the Kurdistan region of Iraq

The primary objective of Turkey’s recent interventions in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) is to cut the Gordian knot of its own Kurdish question by engaging the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliates militarily until they no longer control any territory. To this end, it is essential that Ankara maintains Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – and especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) – as a junior and compliant partner. A secondary Turkish objective is to balance Iran’s influence in Iraq’s disputed territories, mainly by acting as protector of Turkmen and Sunni groups. In the background, the Turkish Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) desire to maintain regime stability at home plays an important role since its alliance with the ultranationalist-conservative Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and some of its domestic legitimacy depends on the success of Turkish interventions into the KRI. Such interventions have historical precedent, but their scope and scale have increased significantly since 2018, with the effect that Ankara has been able to force the PKK into a defensive position. This has been achieved at the cost of the KDP’s popular legitimacy, an increase in PKK popularity and significant collateral damage among ordinary Iraqi (Kurdish) citizens. Further intensification of Turkish interventions into Sinjar, the Nineveh Plains or Sulaymaniyah will lead to greater tensions with both Baghdad and Iran. An extension of UNAMI’s security sector reform work to include border control can help prevent further conflict escalation by inserting a more neutral actor into this volatile situation.

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