Forced to strike IS, Turkey gambles on attacking PKK

Istanbul (AFP) – Forced after months of hesitation to take decisive action against Islamic State rebels, Turkey has seized the chance to also attack Kurdish militants in strikes that put a fragile peace process at risk.

Turkey has been pounding ISIS targets inside Syria since Friday, after blaming the group for a suicide bombing that killed 32 people and in the face of sustained US pressure to take a more aggressive stance against the jihadists.

But Turkey has also expanded the cross-border campaign to target the Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) military forces in northern Iraq, its biggest such bombing raids since 2011, following deadly attacks blamed on the Kurdish separatists.

Ankara has lumped both campaigns together into a broad “war on terror,” even though the secular PKK and Islamist IS are themselves bitterly opposed.

Analysts say the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to score points with voters after its disappointing performance in June 7 polls and also prevent Kurds gaining a strong foothold in Syria.

Turkey regards the PKK, which has waged a deadly insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984, as a terror group and the main Syrian Kurdish group fighting IS — the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — as the PKK’s Syrian branch.

“The government has equated the PKK with IS and, although they are two very different entities, this serves the government’s intentions,” said Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.

David Romano, Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University, said the chief focus of Turkey’s campaign may prove to be the PKK rather than IS.

“Ankara thus hits several birds with one stone,” said Romano, author of “The Kurdish Nationalist Movement”.

With Turkey finally allowing the US to carry out anti-IS strikes from its Incirlik airbase, Ankara hopes for a “quid-pro-quo” that will see the United States distance itself from the PKK-linked PYD in Syria, Romano said.

‘Revenge for June 7’ –

Ankara’s worst case scenario for Syria would be the realisation of the PYD’s dream of an autonomous Kurdish region — known as Rojava — on Turkey’s doorstep.

The government insists it is perfectly logical to equate IS with the PKK, which this week shot dead two Turkish police at home as they slept.

“Though acting with different motivations, the two share similar tactics and goals,” Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote in the Sabah daily.

The strikes come after June 7 parliamentary elections where the AKP lost its overall majority for the first time since it came to power in 2002 and Erdogan failed to win backing for his ambition to create a presidential system.

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