Turkish Defence Minister Yaşar Güler made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Tuesday, accompanied by Chief of the Turkish General Staff Metin Gürak. The surprise visit comes at a time of heightened tensions over Turkey’s ongoing cross-border operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Iraqi territory.
The Turkish Defence Ministry announced the visit without giving specific details of the expected meetings and discussions. However, the visit closely followed a recent trip to Baghdad by Ibrahim Kalın, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT). During his visit, Kalın met with various senior officials in Iraq, including the country’s president, prime minister and representatives of Shia, Sunni and Turkmen groups, as well as officials from the Kurdistan Region, signalling a concerted diplomatic effort on the part of Turkey.
Analysts speculate that these diplomatic efforts, in conjunction with reports of military mobilisation in the region, may be an indication of preparations for a possible new wave of Turkish military campaigns against Kurdish guerrillas in the region.
Relations between Turkey and Iraq have long been strained, largely due to Turkish operations and drone strikes against the PKK. Iraq has on several occasions condemned the Turkish military operations and drone attacks against suspected PKK members and positions within its borders, describing them as a violation of its sovereignty.
Turkey has significantly increased its drone strikes in recent years, with a particular focus on urban areas in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, in an effort to target suspected PKK positions. These strikes have often resulted in casualties, including civilians, and have been a point of contention between the two neighbouring countries.
Yet Turkey continues to justify its military attacks by arguing that its right of self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter covers cross-border air and ground operations in both Syria and Iraq. International legal experts and human rights groups, however, say the attacks are a violation of international law.