Turkey Bombs Kurdish Rebel Targets in Iraq

29 July, 2015

Until about 10 days ago, the talk around Turkey was whether a coalition government should be formed before early August. Then, a suicide bomber attacked a gathering in Suruc, a Turkish town near the Syrian border. More than 30 people were killed. On the other side of the border, Kurdish militias are fighting Islamic State forces in the Syrian town of Kobani.

The Suruc bombing could affect negotiations on forming a coalition. If Turkish lawmakers fail to reach an agreement, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be required to call new elections.

Turkish officials have blamed the Islamic State for the bombing. The attack led the government to launch a campaign against hundreds of suspected militants. The suspects are said to have ties either to the Islamic State or to the Kurdish rebels fighting for self-rule.

A missile-loaded Turkish Air Force warplane rises in the sky after taking off from Incirlik Air Base, in Adana, Turkey, Wednesday, July 29, 2015.
A missile-loaded Turkish Air Force warplane rises in the sky after taking off from Incirlik Air Base, in Adana, Turkey, Wednesday, July 29, 2015.

Last weekend, the Turkish armed forces launched air strikes. From Friday into Saturday, the military hit positions of both the Kurdistan Workers Party in Iraq and Islamic State forces in Syria.

The United States and its NATO allies have expressed support for the Turkish air offensive. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke after a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday.

"NATO is following developments very closely and we stand in strong solidarity with our ally Turkey."

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization also condemned "terrorism in all its forms."

The NATO statement came hours before the Turkish military reported new air strikes on the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK. This time, the strikes were in southeastern Turkey. The PKK is banned under Turkish law.

President Erdogan proposed peace negotiations with Kurdish representatives in 2012. But on Tuesday, he said it was impossible to continue peace efforts with the Kurds. A few hours later, Turkish aircraft bombed Kurdish militant positions in northern Iraq. The Iraqi government condemned the attacks as a "dangerous escalation and an assault on Iraqi sovereignty."

The air raids come less than two weeks before Turkish lawmakers need to agree on a coalition deal to keep the government operating. For the first time, a party linked to the Kurds is represented in Turkey's national assembly. Parliamentary elections in June failed to give any party a majority.

In the United States, Turkey watchers are closely following the developments. David Pollock is with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He told VOA that President Erdogan may be using the current situation partly for political purposes. With the air strikes, he said, Mr. Erdogan could increase support for his Justice and Development Party among Turkish voters.

"The more international emergencies, the more that voters are likely to think we need a good, strong, stable government," says Sinan Ciddi, a visiting assistant professor at Georgetown University. He noted that "it's always in Erdogan's interest to draw out the government formation process."

Kurdish fighters have been battling the Islamic State in neighboring Iraq and Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this week that his country's air strikes are against the PKK, not the Kurds in general.

The United States has expressed strong support for the Turkish offensive. U.S. diplomatic officials described the timing of the air raid against the PKK as unconnected. That raid had "nothing to do with our discussions with Turkey on the fight against the Islamic State," one official said Tuesday.

But a former head of the PKK-linked Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria says Turkey seized a moment to attack the Kurds, a long-time enemy. "Turkey always had plans to attack the Kurds, and now sees it as the best time to do so," said former party chief Fuad Omer.

But Sinan Ciddi is warning that the two air campaigns could hurt President Erdogan. His policy pulls Turkey actively into the anti-Islamic State efforts along the country's border with Syria and Iraq. It could also affect any new elections. In his words, Mr. "Erdogan is a big risk taker," but "this is the biggest risk he has ever taken."

I'm Jim Tedder.

This report was based on stories from VOA's Victoria Macchi and reporter Dorian Jones in Istanbul. George Grow adapted the story for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

solidarity – n. support

escalation – n. a rise or increase in intensity

sovereignty – n. the power of a state to govern itself

assembly – n. parliament

draw out – v. to stretch out or extend