Turkish news agencies report an agreement between Ankara and Baghdad on coordinating efforts to eliminate the armed presence of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iraq's northwestern Sinjar district.
Negotiations on the issue took place on January 18 to 20 in Baghdad and Erbil. The Turkish side was represented by Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Chief of Defense Gen. Yaşar Güler. In the Iraqi capital, they met with Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, Defense Minister Juma Inad, and President Bahram Salih. In Erbil, the administrative capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Turks held talks with Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, his father and former Iraqi President Masoud Barzani, as well as leaders of the Turkish-oriented Turkmen Front.
Hulusi Akar accorded special priority to negotiations with the Turkmen community representatives, assuring them of continued cooperation and willingness to expand assistance aimed at strengthening their influence in the country's northern part. This isolated ethnic Iraqi group has traditionally supported Turkey's actions in northern Iraq and contributed to neutralizing PKK's military infrastructure in the region.
According to the Iraqi Joint Forces Command, the government does not actually hold control over the northwestern Sinjar district, following the removal of the Islamic State (a Muslim international terrorist group banned in Russia). The crucial part in its liberation from terrorists was played by the PKK units, which in return got the privilege of follow-up control over this territory under a 2017 agreement reached between Baghdad and Erbil (the Kurdish Region's capital).
This act was cancelled in October 2019 by mutual agreement, providing for Sinjar's demilitarization by disbanding the PKK militia and people's volunteer corps, as well as for weapon surrender. At that, the Kurdish Region's military-political leadership pledged to establish local authorities, law enforcement bodies and public security forces. This has never been done due to the pushback of the PKK armed detachments controlling the area.
It should be also noted that a considerable section of the Iraqi-Syrian border in this area is not controlled by the Iraqi government forces, being virtually used for continuous replenishment of the Kurdish People's Protection Units, which make up the bulk of the pro-American Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). At the same time, the American command in the Middle East is aware of continuous cooperation between the SDF and the PKK, and does not intend to limit it, despite Turkey's imperative demands.
According to the regional Arabic outlet Asharq al-Awsat, the Turkish command has developed a phased long-term plan for a complete phase-out of PKK's armed formations in Iraq and Syria. The first stage stipulates a large-scale military campaign in the Sinjar district along with the Iraqi armed forces aimed to eliminate militants in the Iraqi territory and oust PKK detachments to Syria.
The second stage provides for military actions against the Kurdish People's Protection Units in Syria. Those actions should be consistent with the US stance. The third (final) stage is designed to ensure the Kurds' return to peaceful life and to yield strengthened ties between Turkey and Russia as regards mending fences with Syria.
According to unconfirmed information leaked to the Turkish press, the Turks intend to open hostilities in the Sinjar district in the second half of March this year. A remarkable thing is that starting June 2019, Turkey, though not licensed by the government of Iraq, has begun suppressing PKK units in this area, with occasional air and artillery strikes against the Kurdish positions.
Iraq itself is ambiguous about the reported agreements with Turkey. A number of influential politicians have criticized the Iraqi government, accusing it of deliberately weakening its sovereignty and agreeing to the neighboring country's aggressive plans. This will scarcely obstruct Ankara's ambition, all the more so as the Turks will fall back upon the probe-tested practice of involving allied militants from Sunni radical groups stationed in Iraq and Syria, in ground mission operations.
As for Turkey's actions against the Kurds in Syria, this option still seems highly suspect: the United States is not going to leave this country yet, and will keep relying on its ally as represented by the Syrian Democratic Forces.