Last week, Turkey announced an invasion codenamed “Claw-Lock” into areas of northern Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Airstrikes and raids by special forces have targeted the Kurdish nationalist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). While Turkey has declared more than 50 militiamen dead, the PKK claimed to have killed nearly 30 Turkish soldiers so far.
It comes as the US-led NATO powers escalate a proxy war against Russia in Ukraine and soaring energy and food prices around the world escalate class anger workers in all countries. The Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan faces an unprecedented economic and social crisis and an increasingly militant working class at home.
Last Monday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the Turkish Air Force struck “shelters, bunkers, caves, tunnels, ammunition depots and the so-called headquarters belonging to the terrorist organization”, referring to the PKK. He said the Turkish military used artillery, ATAK helicopters and armed drones in the Metina, Zap and Avasin-Basyan regions of Iraqi Kurdistan.
This invasion is part of a series of Turkish military operations against PKK positions in the Iraqi province of Duhok: Operation Claw in 2019; Operation Tiger Claw in 2020; and Operation Claw-Lightning and Operation Claw-Thunderbolt in 2021. Turkey has had a permanent military presence in the region since 2016 with more than 35 military points, according to a statement from the Turkish Presidency in 2020.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: “Soon there will be no place called Qandil”, referring to the central headquarters of the PKK. Murat Karayılan, a PKK leader, said it was not an “operation”, but a “major war”. He said the current fight against the Turkish military was for “survival”. Another PKK leader, Duran Kalkan, threatened to turn all cities in Turkey “into a war zone”. Subsequently, two attacks took place in Istanbul and Bursa. The Turkish Interior Ministry blamed the PKK and its allies.
Turkish state-owned company TRT World reported that the latest Turkish invasion is taking place with the direct support of KRG peshmerga forces. He writes: “With the start of the operation, and even a few days before, the Kurdish peshmerga forces were deployed in the region to block the roads and prevent the PKK from hiding in the Kurdish towns and villages”.
He added: “The offensive started a few days after [Iraqi] Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani’s visit to Ankara last week. On April 13, just prior to this visit, US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Joey Hood met with Masrour Barzani and KRG Chairman Nechrivan Barzani in Erbil.
However, Baghdad strongly denounced Turkey’s illegal invasion of Iraqi territory. On Tuesday, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador, handing him a “firm note of protest” urging Turkey to “end acts of provocation and unacceptable violations”. Iraqi officials have denied Erdoğan’s claims that Iraq supported the Turkish invasion.
The Turkish invasion of Iraq is accompanied by operations against the US-backed People’s Defense Units (YPG) militias, the PKK’s allies in Syria. Turkey’s Defense Ministry said its forces killed 50 YPG militiamen in Mare, a district north of Aleppo. Kurdish fighters also claim to have killed 10 Turkish special forces in the district. The Turkish military has occupied parts of northern Syria since 2016 to prevent the formation of a YPG-ruled Kurdish enclave on its southern borders.
Turkey’s invasion of Iraq comes amid multiple US-backed maneuvers to reduce Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. Among these is the sale of natural gas from Iraqi Kurdistan to Europe via Turkey, apparently with the support of Israel.
Kurdish Prime Minister Barzani met Boris Johnson last Tuesday in London. According to a statement from Johnson’s office, “Prime Minister Barzani spoke of his aspiration to export energy to Europe, and the Prime Minister praised his efforts to help reduce the West’s dependence on vis-à-vis Russian oil and gas”.
Currently, there is no gas pipeline between Turkey and Iraq. According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu (AA) agency, construction work on a pipeline came to a halt after the 2017 Kurdistan independence referendum crisis. In February, AA quoted an Iraqi official as saying, “KRG will start to sell natural gas to Turkey in 2025”.
However, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court ruled last February that the Erbil administration cannot export oil and gas independently of Baghdad, so Baghdad must be included in future plans.
According to Rudaw in Iraqi Kurdistan, “the Kurdistan Region Ministry of Energy signed an engineering, procurement and construction contract with KAR Group in December 2021 for the extension of the gas pipeline network to the Turkish border” . The Kurdistan gas pipeline would thus reach up to 35 kilometers from the Turkish border.
The region from which Ankara seeks to expel PKK militias in Iraq is apparently of crucial importance for the gas pipeline project.
However, NATO‘s aim to escalate its proxy war against Russia in Ukraine while crippling the Russian economy is pressuring Europe to end its oil and gas imports even sooner. gas from Russia. This was a major topic in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus during visits by US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in early April.
During her visit, she reaffirmed that Washington had withdrawn its support for the EastMed gas pipeline project between Greece, Cyprus and Israel, which excludes Turkey. Speaking to the Greek daily Kathimerini, she said it will be “very expensive and it will take 10 years to build. Everyone needs energy now, needs gas, needs electricity. This is why we are now focusing on LNG. She added that “this part of the world can also be an energy engine for Northern Europe”.
Nuland also mentioned “the floating LNG terminal in Alexandroupoli. This allows Greece to be an energy hub not only for your own needs, but for all of South East Europe at key times. The terminal would be operational by the end of 2023, according to Greek owner company Gastrade.
During his visit to Turkey, Nuland activated the strategic mechanism, a new instrument aimed at improving bilateral relations and solving problems between Washington and Ankara. Talk to Hürriyet Daily News in Turkey, she spoke of the ongoing normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations on the basis of potential energy supply projects from the Eastern Mediterranean.
She said: “First of all, it is strongly in our interest, we think it is in the interest of both Israel and Turkey to have good, solid relations, trade relations, energy relations,” adding: “Among the things this war highlights is the need for all countries that still have a large amount of oil and gas imports from Russia to find ways to diversify and diversify quickly.
At the end of March, Erdoğan announced that a gas pipeline from Israel through Turkey to Europe was on the agenda. Israeli President Isaac Herzog paid a state visit to Ankara, the first for an Israeli president, in early March. Erdoğan said possible Turkish-Israeli gas cooperation was “one of the most important steps we can take together for bilateral relations.”
The Leviathan field in the eastern Mediterranean, reports Reuters, “already supplies Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Its owners – Chevron and the Israeli companies NewMed Energy and Ratio Oil – plan to increase production from 12 to 21 billion cubic meters (BCM) per year. In comparison, the European Union imported 155 billion cubic meters of Russian gas last year, covering almost 40% of its consumption.
Reuters quoted Israeli officials as saying that a potential undersea pipeline between Turkey and Israel would run 500-550 km and cost up to 1.5 billion euros to build (the EastMed pipeline cost 6 billion euros ). However, such a pipeline would raise decades-long issues and potential new conflicts over Cyprus and NATO’s war for regime change in Syria, as it “would have to cross the waters of Cyprus, which Ankara would not not recognize, or of Syria, with which Ankara has no diplomatic relations and has supported the rebels fighting the government in Damascus.