Since the beginning of 2017, Turkish military forces have been responsible for the vast majority of the remote violence reported in the Iraqi governorates bordering Turkey. This is largely due to their ongoing conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which maintains bases in northern Iraq (Iraqi News, December 25, 2017). These remote violence events are almost entirely airstrikes carried out by Turkish military forces, alongside a much smaller proportion of events involving drone strikes and artillery fire. Although ACLED does not track ‘perpetrators’ and ‘targets’ in remote violence events, a review of the Notes associated with these events can help to determine this relationship when such information is available; for example, in this context, almost all remote violence events involving the Turkish military in Iraq (nearly 91%) comprise of them targeting the PKK, with the other events reportedly having hit civilian targets.
This air war has almost exclusively affected the three northern Iraqi governorates of Dahuk, Erbil, and to a lesser extent Sulaymaniyah, which make up the official Kurdistan Region of Iraq. In Dahuk, Turkish military forces were involved in every reported remote violence event, many of which occurred in Dahuk’s Zap region (see Figure 1), while close to 90% of remote violence events in neighbouring Erbil governorate likewise involved Turkish military forces. Dahuk and Erbil governorates together account for Iraq’s entire border with Turkey, and have also been the site of 95% of all events involving the Turkish military in Iraq since 2017.
More recently in March 2018, ACLED recorded the second highest number of remote violence events carried out by Turkish military forces in northern Iraq in a single month (see Figure 2). This occurred within the context of a renewed escalation of tensions between the Turkish government and the PKK, and threats that Turkey would begin a new offensive against PKK militants who were said to be setting up new bases in the Sinjar area of Iraq (Iraqi News, March 26, 2018).
With the number of reported direct clashes between Turkish forces and the PKK in Iraq having likewise risen sharply from an average of 0-3 per month to more than 10 in April 2018, it seems likely that Turkish military involvement in Iraq is set to grow over the near term and potentially evolve into a more comprehensive intervention similar to that witnessed over the last few months in the Afrin region of Syria (Deutsche Welle, February 20, 2018).