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Türkiye’s top security, diplomacy brass set for critical Iraq visit

Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, Defense Minister Yaşar Güler and National Intelligence Organization (MIT) head Ibrahim Kalın are set to visit Baghdad on Thursday. The three men convened at the Defense Ministry headquarters in the capital, Ankara, on Monday, briefly after Güler’s well-publicized remarks regarding a possible operation in Iraq against the PKK terrorist group.

Güler’s remarks to a group of journalists affirmed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s earlier statement about a possible major offensive this summer in Türkiye’s southern neighbor.

Counterterrorism will be the main agenda of their meetings with Iraqi officials. Media outlets reported that they would discuss establishing a “joint operations center” with Iraq for a more effective fight against terrorism. Sources said Iraq was more responsive to the idea, which was also voiced by the Turkish side in the past. Sabah newspaper reported that Turkish and Iraqi officials would discuss the work to secure the Turkish-Iraqi border and the ambitious Development Road Project.

On Tuesday, a Turkish delegation was in Iraq to discuss border security. The Ministry of National Defense announced that Gen. Metin Tokel, commander of the Second Army, led the delegation that held talks in northern Iraq. The ministry said in the statement that Tokel and the delegation spoke about border security and improving the security of Iraqi citizens at the meeting held “within the borders of Operation Claw-Lock,” referring to the ongoing cross-border offensive in Iraq’s north.

Türkiye has stepped up diplomatic efforts on the issue in recent years. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last held a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed S. Al Sudani in January, before Kalın’s visit to Iraq, where he met the president and prime minister. Güler also traveled to Iraq for talks with senior officials last month. He also discussed the counterterrorism efforts with Nechirwan Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) controlling Iraq’s north, when the latter visited Türkiye for a diplomacy forum earlier this month. Minister Fidan was also a visitor to Iraq last August, where he held meetings in semiautonomous north and Baghdad.

Türkiye renewed its counterterrorism campaign in the past decade after a brief lull. In Iraq, it launched the Claw-Sword operation in 2022 to eliminate terrorists hiding in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq. The offensive continues with occasional precision strikes and “retaliation” strikes against terrorists engaging in harassment fire or trying to infiltrate into Türkiye to carry out attacks. Güler, who served as Chief of General Staff between 2018 and 2023, said operations by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in the past, which had “limited targets and had a time limit,” are being replaced by continuous, comprehensive operations that achieve success.

“Many places within Türkiye that have been synonymous with acts of terrorism are cleared of terrorism. We haven’t had a major terrorist attack in Türkiye since 2016. We changed our counterterrorism concept and started eliminating terrorism at its source. Our principle is protecting our citizens against any threat though we may suffer from those challenges ourselves,” Güler told journalists on Monday.

In its more than 40-year terror campaign against Türkiye, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union – has been responsible for the deaths of more than 40,000 people, including women, children and infants. Although its activities are significantly reduced within Turkish territories, the PKK finds shelter in mountainous areas where members hide out in winter and store munitions and survival kits.

Officials from Iraq and Syria occasionally raise concerns regarding what they call a violation of the sovereignty of their lands, but Türkiye highlights that the counterterrorism operations are within legal boundaries and in line with international agreements over the sovereignty of countries. Güler said on Monday that Ankara also does not have to “ask” other countries regarding matters of Türkiye’s security, be it the U.S. or Russia, two countries influential in Syria.

“We do what we are supposed to do. The Republic of Türkiye is a great state and does not need permission from others,” he said.

The U.S. is the main supporter of the PKK’s Syrian wing YPG and, from time to time, delivers military supplies to the terrorist group under the guise of a fight against the Daesh terrorist group.

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