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Turkey’s Fidan says Iraqi Sinjar must be ‘clear’ of PKK presence

The top Turkish diplomat’s comment comes as Ankara is ramping up its threats for a large-scale operation in northern Iraq.
Iraqi autonomous Kurdish region's peshmerga forces and fighters from the Yazidi minority, a local Kurdish-speaking community targeted in a brutal campaign by the Islamic State (IS) group, enter the western Iraqi city of Sinjar, in the Nineveh Province, on Nov. 13, 2015.

ANKARA — The Iraqi Yazidi region of Sinjar must be cleared of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said Wednesday. 

“Sinjar is right next to the Syrian border, and as long as the PKK prevails in Sinjar, its interaction with the group’s presence on the other side of the border will continue. This must be put to an end,” Fidan said during a live interview.

Located near the Iraqi border with Syria in the north, Sinjar has long been a focal point for Turkey, with Ankara accusing the PKK of using the Yazidi region as a logistical corridor to connect with their Syrian offshoots. Headquartered in northern Iraq, the PKK has been fighting against Turkish forces for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey since the 1980s and is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara, Washington and the majority of European powers.

Fidan made the remarks as he praised the Baghdad government for taking steps against the PKK after Baghdad designated the militant group a banned organization in March. 

“[The Iraqi government forces] are currently strengthening the border. They are preventing the border from being used [by the PKK],” Fidan said. “But one of the most important steps that must be taken there, tactically speaking, is to clear the Sinjar region from the PKK completely.”

Sinjar was among the regions hardest hit by the 2014 onslaught from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, with the UN labeling the Sunni extremist group's actions, including enslaving thousands of Yazidi women, as genocide. The region was liberated in 2015 with the assistance of the PKK, which helped to form and train Yazidi-led Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS).

Fidan’s statement comes as Ankara is escalating the threat of a fresh large-scale military operation in northern Iraq. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed earlier this month to “deal a final blow” to the militant group, echoing his previous threats for a large-scale military incursion into northern Iraq this summer. 

However, Sinjar has been absent from the official Turkish narrative for some time, and aside from occasional Turkish airstrikes targeting the region, a potential Turkish operation into the Yazidi homeland could pit Ankara against an unlikely regional power: Tehran. Sinjar is one of the northern Iraqi regions where PKK militants and Iran-backed militia groups have been closely coordinating, as assessed by a Pentagon report released in 2022, with Shiite militia groups still maintaining significant influence in the region.