After threats of a false military operation, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was able to force the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to withdraw its fighters from Sinjar in western Ninewa along the Syrian border. On March 19, President Erdogan said that Turkey would launch a military operation in Sinjar any time to fight the PKK. He made the same threat two days later. That led the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to demand the PKK to pull out of the district to protect civilians from an impending Turkish threat. Then on March 25, Turkey announced that it was intervening in Sinjar. Back in February, Turkey’s Foreign Minister said that it was planning a military operation in Kurdistan to force the PKK out of both the Qandil Mountains and Sinjar. On March 16, Turkish forces moved 15 kilometers into Irbil in the latest attempt to wipe out the Workers’ Party bases in northern Kurdistan.
These threats succeeding in forcing the PKK out of Sinjar. By March 23, the group said that it had withdrawn. That was confirmed by the Sinjar district head. According to the media, the PKK made a deal with Baghdad to have the government take over responsibility for the various military forces in Sinjar including the Sinjar Protection Units (YBS) and Sinjar Women Protection Units (YJS), which the Kurdish group helped organize. The Iraqi army’s 15th Division also took over security in part of the district. This agreement with the Abadi government allowed the Workers Party to pull out its fighters, but maintain its affiliates the YBS and YJS. Not only that, but they now have federal funding as well. It’s political offices in Sinjar probably remain intact as well.
This was a huge victory for Turkey, but the PKK gained as well. First, President Erdogan bluffed about launching a military operation. No such incursion happened in Sinjar. The PKK moved into the area in 2014 to protect the indigenous Yazidis against genocide at the hands of the Islamic State. Afterward, it set up its own administration and organized the locals into militias all of which caused great concern in Ankara. The PKK had already taken a leading role in the Syrian war, and now they were expanding into Iraq’s Ninewa as well. Now that problem has been eliminated. This is all part of Turkey’s more aggressive stance towards its Kurdish population that started last year. Ankara has increased its air strikes and shelling of northern Kurdistan targeting PKK bases. It continues its operations in Irbil, and now has forced the PKK out of Sinjar. On the other hand, the Workers Party still has its political wing, and two Yazidi forces in the district, and they are now recognized by the Iraqi government. That means both sides could say it came out ahead.
Al Aalem, “An Iraqi military force in Sinjar discusses the safe exit of the PKK … The source denies the mass exodus of people,” 3/21/18
Ali, Nasr, “Iraq to absorb PKK-aligned groups in Shingal amid Turkish threats,” Rudaw, 3/26/18
Bas News, “Baghdad Threatens to React as Ankara Announces Operation in Sinjar,” 3/25/18
Cevik, Ilnur, “PKK is maneuvering to grab northern Iraq,” Daily Sabah, 12/29/17
eKurd, “Turkish army entered seven kilometers into Iraqi Kurdistan: authorities,” 1/31/18
Al Mada, “PKK withdraws from Sinjar,” 3/24/18
Al Mirbad, “Joint operations denies movement of any foreign troops into Ninewa and Sinjar,” 3/25/18
Mostafa, Mohamed, “Iraq approves Turkish military operaitons to purge joint borders,” Iraqi News, 3/20/18
Niqash, “A Mountain Kingdom? Iraqi Politicians Nonplussed About New PKK ‘Region,’” 1/18/18
Rudaw, “Erdogan announces operation in Shingal to remove PKK,” 3/25/18
- “Iraq gives big no to Turkish military operation within its borders,” 3/21/18
- “Nineveh governor urges immediate security deployment to Shingal,” 3/25/18
- “PKK vows to retaliate after deaths in Turkish strikes,” 3/25/18
- “PKK withdraws from Shingal, says Iraq will secure Yezidi area,” 3/23/18
- “Turkey: We carried out a military operation in northern Iraq up to 15 km,” 3/16/18
Shafaaq News, “Turkey to launch a military operation in Kurdistan is an important matter,” 2/14/18
Sotaliraq, “A large Iraqi army force arrives in Sinjar,” 3/25/18
- “Ninewa: The 15th Division takes over the tasks of holding land in Sinjar after the withdrawal of the Kurdistan Workers Party,” 3/26/18