On 18 April, Turkey announced the beginning of a new cross-border military special operation in Iraqi Kurdistan, Claw Lock (Pençe Kilit). Ankara initially focused all its attention on the Duhok Province of Iraq, where Special Forces of the Ministry of Defense of Turkey with the support of artillery, landed in the Metina, Zap and Avashin areas and launched an operation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
On 19 April, Alsumaria television channel reported that the spokesperson for the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the Turkey’s military operation in northern Iraq as unacceptable and violating the sovereignty of the Arab Republic. “The Government of the Republic of Iraq categorically rejects and strongly condemns the military operations carried out by the Turkish military forces by bombarding Iraqi territories in the Matina, Zab, Avashin and Basyan areas in northern Iraq with the use of ATAK helicopters and drones,” the spokesperson for the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.
On April 25, Minister of Defense of Turkey Hulusi Akar together with the Chief of the General Staff Yashar Güler and the Commander of the Land Forces Musa Avsever, visited the tactical command post of the 3rd Infantry Division of the Turkish Army. On that occasion, Akar voiced the losses of Kurdish formations since July 24, 2015: “In northern Iraq and Syria, 34,259 terrorists have already been neutralized. Since the beginning of this year, the number of neutralized militants reached 991.” The head of the Ministry of National Defense of Turkey also pointed out that 56 terrorists had already been neutralized during the latest Pençe Kilit “special operation”; the operation is continuing as planned. He added that for Ankara there is no difference between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the YPG (“People’s Self-Defense Units”). “The targets identified in the first phase of the special operation have been captured. Unlike previous operations, this special operation will be long-lasting, because Turkey will not stop until the last terrorist has been killed,” stressed the Minister of Defense of Turkey.
The analyst Emin Pazardzhi recently noted on the air of the Turkish television channel A Haber that Ankara is preparing to extend its “special operation” to Syria. “The operation is always on the agenda and always on the table. And Turkey is conducting this operation as needed. In this regard, this should not be neglected,” Pazardzhi said, stressing that “it is wrong to think that this will not happen.”
At the same time, in the middle of April the leader of the Turkish opposition Welfare Party, Temel Karamollaoğlu accused President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the air of the Turkish television channel Haberturk of having started war in Syria. He claimed that for that reason “Syria turned into a bloodbath.” Karamollaoğlu also reminded that the conflicts in Syria resulted in 30 million people fleeing to Turkey.
Since the 1980s, armed incursions by Turkish military forces on the territory of neighboring countries have become routine. After the start of the first cross-border military operation, Ankara with numerical and technological advantage in military terms continues to fight Kurdish separatism and its resource bases not only in Iraq but also in Syria. The current Claw Lock special operation is a continuation of a series of similar endeavors. So Claw-Eagle was launched in May 2019, followed by Claw-Tiger in June 2020. The third phase was a dual ground and air cross-border special operation, Claw Lightning and Claw Ball Thunderbolt, which was initiated in April 2021. In February 2022, the Turkish Air Force conducted a short-term air operation, Winter Eagle.
All Turkish special operations mainly focused on PKK positions in the Duhok Province of Iraq and aimed at preventing the movement of Kurdish militants between their bases, which spread from the Qandil Mountains on the Iraq-Iran border all the way to the Syrian border. But now it seems that Turkey decided to seriously take its “special operation” for the long haul. This is confirmed by the heavy shelling by Turkish army with more than 100 shells in the Tell Rifaat district, Aleppo province, in northern Syria on May 4, as reported by the Kurdish news agency Firat. The news agency reports the fire came from heavy guns. As a result of the attack, a number of settlements controlled by the Kurdish groups of the “People’s Self-Defense Units” were destroyed.
Ankara does not hide the main goals of the special operation: the destruction of all PKK encampments in the border regions, the build-up of Turkish military bases in Iraqi Kurdistan and the isolation of the Turkish-Iraqi border. Obviously, the Turkish command are eager to expand the buffer zone in northern Iraq with the possible capture of the Zap area, the last route for the PKK from Kurdistan to Turkey. As part of the Claw series of special operations, Ankara has already set up a permanent bridgehead in the region, with more than 40 military bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. Last year, Minister of the Interior Suleyman Soylu said that Turkey would establish a base in Metina to monitor the region and control routes into the mountains on the Iraq-Iran border, where the PKK’s main command center is based.
Turkey’s expansion and intensification of Claw operations draws attention to the lack of condemnation in the international community of this “special operation” by Ankara, and its constant military actions against the PKK are already regarded by a number of countries as a matter of course.
This is particularly striking against the backdrop of the sanctions and blatantly Russophobic campaign launched by Washington and its West allies against the Russian special operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukrainian terrorists, who have been carrying out outright genocide against the peaceful population of eastern Ukraine with the tacit response of the West.
Moscow and Ankara are trying to achieve similar goals in their special operations: security near their borders. However, the obvious decisive factors in the West’s reaction are the Russophobic sentiments encouraged by Washington and an overt support of any aggression by a NATO country.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.