Turkey ends 'first phase' of military operation in N. Iraq, as Kurdish commentators warn of an 'occupation'
Turkey on Monday said it had "successfully completed the first stage" of its cross-border military incursion, dubbed "Operation Claw-Lock", into northern Iraqi Kurdistan to fight against militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as several Kurdish political observers warn Ankara's main strategy is to "occupy the region."
On April 18 Turkey launched "Operation Claw-Lock" against the PKK in the Metina, Zap and Avasin-Basyan areas of the Iraqi Kurdistan region.
"Our operation continues as planned with great success. We wish God's mercy upon our martyrs," Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted by Anadolu News Agency as saying.
"The first phase of the operation has been successfully completed," he added, before stressing that a new phase of the operation had already begun and will continue until the goal of defeating the PKK is achieved.
"Some 56 PKK terrorists were eliminated in the operation so far. Right now we have taken most of the area under control, however, there are many caves in this area…Our only goal is to eliminate terrorists. Once the area is cleared, Turkey's border will be fully locked against security threats," Akar said according to the Daily Sabah.
On its part, the People's Defense Forces (HPG), the military wing of the PKK, on Monday said in a statement said that "19 Turkish soldiers were killed, 2 more were injured, 6 helicopters were damaged, and one drone was shot down."
"The occupying Turkish army has once again resorted to vicious methods and used toxic chemical gases during the battle since it fails to advance against our forces, who are inflicting heavy blows on them. Despite all the dirty war methods employed by the occupying Turkish army, which has committed war crimes using chemical weapons," excerpts of the statement claim.
The PKK has been waging an insurgency for greater autonomous rights against the Turkish state since 1984, with tens of thousands estimated to have been killed so far. The PKK has been categorised as a "terrorist organisation" by Ankara and its Western allies.
"The Turkish state is just using the PKK as a pretext for its step by step strategy of occupying the Iraqi Kurdistan region and reviving the former Ottoman Empire," Kamaran Mantik, a Kurdish University political science professor, told The New Arab during a brief phone interview.
"Ankara has the green light of NATO, Russia, and Iran to occupy northern Iraq, which was known as Vilayet Mosul of the Ottoman Empire," he added.