Recent rapprochement between the governments of Turkey and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq may signal a significant change in the situation on the ground in Syria and the standing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkish journalist and analyst Murat Yetkin said in a recent video.
KRI Prime Minister Masrour Barzani met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara on Tuesday to discuss regional matters and attempt to resolve the oil crisis between the two parties, where objections by Iraq’s central government led to a suspension of oil flow and cost upwards of $2 billion in lost revenue. Barzani was the first foreign leader to be received in the presidential palace after Erdoğan’s re-election, while Turkey does not fully recognise the KRG and did not include the Kurdish flag in the protocol.
In attendance at the meeting was Turkey’s recently appointed Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, who worked with the Kurdish premier during the pair’s previous positions as intelligence chiefs of their respective governments. Fidan headed to London after the meeting, to attend a conference on Ukraine, where he met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to Yetkin.
Turkey has leveraged Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for concessions from Western countries, particularly in the form of hindering NATO accession for Sweden and Finland.
Ankara’s demands are centred around anti-terrorism efforts, among which are extradition requests for dozens of alleged PKK-affiliated Swedish citizens and asylum seekers. Sweden has rejected most of these requests, while returing to Turkey several persons who had petty criminal records outside of political or terrorism charges, which went against the Turkish government’s wishes. Yetkin said the Nordic country’s attitude may also be shifting, as evidenced by a recent court case involving financing of terrorism – the first case in Sweden against the PKK in a long time.
Meanwhile, Russia wants Turkey’s relations with the Syrian regime to improve, Yetkin said, but Bashar al-Assad’s demand for such improvement is Turkey withdrawing from Syrian soil completely, which Ankara is unlikely to accept. “We are still suffering the government’s great mistakes in Syria policy,” the analyst said. “That piled on Turkey’s current problems, includign anti-terror efforts and the migrant issue.”
KRG and Erdoğan’s government have been growing closer and increasing collaboration on military matters, which has significant implications for the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria, Yetkin said, referring to the region as “PKK-controlled Syria”.
The PKK controlled parts of Northern Iraq, around Mount Qandil and the Sinjar region, but their influence has waned in recent years, Yetkin said, due to military and intelligence operations by Turkey. Turkey has carried out annual incursions into Syria since 2015, and maintains thousands of troops in dozens of outposts in Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkish troops and the Islamist groups they support have been accused of war crimes and use of chemical weapons against what they consider PKK targets, which include civilians.
Another point of friction between Turkey and the United States is the former’s wish to purchase upgrades for its F-16 fighter jet fleet from the latter. The reason the sale has not gone through is Greece demanding Turkey not be allowed to get “stronger”, according to Yetkin. Turkey was removed from the F-35 development program upon its purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia, which Washington considers a security threat to NATO infrastructure, and the F-16 purchase is related to the ousting.