Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighters in Shingal. AP file photo.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) wants to participate in the ongoing operation against Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Mosul, analysts say this is a gambit on their part to become accepted as a legitimate political entity in Iraq.
Aliza Marcus, an analyst on Kurdish issues and author of ‘Blood and Belief: The P.K.K. and the Kurdish Fight for Independence’ argues that “joining in the Mosul operation takes on more symbolism,” for the PKK.
“I see the PKK’s demand to take part in the Mosul attack as more about being accepted as a legitimate political and armed force in Iraq than anything else,” Marcus told Rudaw English. “If the PKK were allowed to join in the Mosul operation, this would be a sign that it had been accepted as a legitimate force in the Kurdistan Region in particular.”
This acceptance as a legitimate force in this region comes as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) wants the PKK to vacate its forces from the foothold they are still retaining in Shingal in contravention of the KRG’s sovereignty over that region. Stein also identified the PKK presence there as something which “will have to be addressed in the post-Mosul operation Iraq.”
“Practically speaking, I don’t see the PKK in a position to send a large force to Mosul or play a key role,” Marcus added, “but the symbolic importance is big.”
Here Marcus sees a parallel between why the PKK wants to participate in Mosul with why its arch enemy Ankara does.
“In some ways, this isn’t so different from what Turkey is demanding, which is also a role in Mosul, which is something that could boost Turkey’s claims to being an important player in the region,” she explained.
Since early this year the PKK and its Yezidi offshoot, the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), have voiced their willingness to fight in the Mosul operation. The military commander of the YBS, Haval Mazloum, told Rudaw back in January that his group is determined to participate alongside the PKK. When asked if they would be permitted to do so he simply declared, “It is already decided that we would participate in liberating Mosul.”
A commander of the PKK’s armed wing, the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), Agid Kalari, has also reiterated the group’s determination to participate in the battle this month.
Marcus doubts that these forces can unilaterally enter the Mosul battle, saying such a move would be “too difficult and dangerous,” for them.
“This is a highly organized operation and it would be hard for groups to join in without coordination,” she explained.
Aaron Stein, a resident fellow of the Atlantic Council think tank, whose areas of expertise include US-Turkey relations, doubts the PKK will play any significant role if it does participate.
“The PKK, operating as the YBS could try and play some very small, limited role in areas they control near Shingal, and then try and pretend they are playing a decisive role in the Mosul campaign,” Stein told Rudaw English.
“Turkey could choose to make this an issue, but the reality is that the YBS/PKK will not play any meaningful role in Mosul,” he added.
Mahmut Bozarsian, a journalist who has written on this issue before, fears that PKK participation will lead to another war front between the group and Turkey in Nineveh.
“If the PKK do participate this will increase tensions in the region given Turkey’s opposition to the group and open the possibility for a new front against Turkey, which will also fight the PKK,” Bozarsian told Rudaw English.
He also pointed out that the possibility of PKK participation depends on relations between Baghdad and Ankara, which are extremely tense at the moment over the Turkish military deployment to the Bashiqa training camp near Mosul.
The United States has made clear that it opposes any PKK participation in the operation. However, it remains somewhat unclear if Iraq would willingly prevent its participation given its current consternation with Turkey over its aforementioned Bashiqa presence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s insistence that Ankara play a major role in shaping Mosul’s future and preserving its Sunni Arab, Kurdish and Turkman demographics.
“I think forces in the region will use the PKK to keep Turkey busy,” Bozarsian predicted.