Turkey links strikes against ISIS in Syria with fight against Kurdish rebels in Iraq
Turkey’s decision to join the fight against ISIS in Syria has launched a series of complications for both coalition partners in that campaign, and for Kurdish fighters who are helping Western allies in the region to gain ground against the terror group.
In addition to striking an ISIS stronghold in Syria, Turkey has launched a second front against Kurdish rebels in Iraq – a group known as the PKK which is working with the coalition in Iraq.
Canada is one of those allies weighing in on this latest development.
The government confirmed Saturday that Canadian soldiers are not working with the PKK, which Canada considers a terrorist organization. In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it supports Turkey in responding to all forms of terror threats.
The U.S. also chimed in Saturday, saying Turkey has the right to defend itself against terrorist attacks by Kurdish rebels. White House spokesman Alistair Baskey condemned recent terrorist attacks by the PKK, which the U.S. has also deemed a terrorist group. While Baskey said the PKK should renounce terrorism and resume talks with the Turkish government, he called on both sides to avoid violence and pursue de-escalation.
The Turkish strikes in northern Iraq, launched this week, have further complicated the war against ISIS and added another element of instability to the region.
“The Kurds we mostly work with on the Canadian side are the Peshmerga inside Iraq. That is a different group than the one attacked by Turkey. Nevertheless, attacking any set of Kurds which have been working with us puts us in a more perilous situation,” said Carleton University political science professor Elliot Tepper.
University of Montreal international relations professor Samir Saul said any efforts to weaken the Kurds only help the West’s enemy – ISIS.
“If one is attacking and weakening the Kurds, by direct consequence, is weakening the anti-ISIS, anti-jihadi front,” said Saul. “Weakening the Kurds is aiding ISIS.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed the attacks on Kurdish rebels, also known as the PKK, a long-time enemy of Turkey.
“We are actively contributing to the fight against foreign terrorists who have joined ISIS or the PKK,” said Cavusoglu.
The Kurds and Turks have been clashing for decades, with the Kurds demanding an independent state within Turkey. And while the enemies reached a peace deal in 2013, the Kurds say that ceasefire is now over because of the new round of Turkish bombings in northern Iraq.
The new Turkish attacks are worrying Kurds in Iraq.
"Unfortunately it will have an impact on the whole Middle East,” said Shilan Eminoglu, a member of the local Kurdish community. “If your brother is in trouble, you can't keep your hands in your pockets and live in peace."
Opposition to the Turkish airstrikes grew beyond Iraq Saturday, with more than 1,000 Kurds and leftist Turks marching in Paris to protest the attacks. One protest banner read, “To hit the PKK is collaborating with Daesh.” ISIS is known as “Daesh” in France.
The Kurdish rebels, targeted by Turkey, are affiliated with the Kurdish soldiers who are working alongside Western allies in the fight against ISIS. Canada is a part of that U.S.-led coalition, and has 69 Special Forces operations soldiers training Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq. At time of publication Saturday, the Department of National Defence (DND) would not say if they are concerned about Turkey’s new bombing campaign.
However, DND said on Friday that the Canadian Armed Forces have “no plans” to carry out missions from air bases in Turkey, despite the fact that the U.S. is using a Turkish airbase for operations.
DND reaffirmed that Canada’s roughly 600 personnel, six CF-18 Hornets fighter jets, two surveillance planes and a refueling aircraft will continue to be based in Kuwait.
With files from CTV’s Katie Simpson, the Canadian Press and Associated Press