Turkey is on full alert following another attack Sunday in the capital Ankara on a bus stop in which at least 37 people were killed and 20 suspects have been arrested in three provinces. But Turkey’s response, which is to bomb northern Iraq, will have broader consequences that take this spreading conflict to yet another level.
Early on Monday, Turkey responded by unleashing its air force on Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq. Ten Turkish fighter jets pounded Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions in and around the mountainous areas of northern Iraq, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to bring “terrorism” to its knees, categorically referring to the PKK, not the Islamic State.
It is the third attack in six months in the Turkish capital, prompting even the head of Turkey’s Supreme Court to opine that the country has to learn “to live with terror”.
On October 2015, an attack claimed by the Islamic State targeted a crowded Ankara train station, killed over 100 people, and then last month, another attack in the capital city targeted military shuttles, killing 29 people and wounding over 80 others.
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Sunday’s attack is believed to have been perpetrated by a group affiliated with the PKK, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), which also reportedly claimed responsibility for the 17 February bombing.
Police sources have told local media that two suicide bombers appeared to have directly been responsible for Sunday’s attack—a man and a woman.
As Oilprice.com reported on Friday, the internal unrest in southeastern Turkey that has continued to intensify since last June’s general elections, is a major threat to Turkey’s energy security as the government struggles to secure its borders with both Syria and Iraq. Turkey’s all-out war against the PKK since then—which has resulted in the killing of more than 3,000 PKK militants —has weakened abilities to fight back the Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Syria and is creating a dangerous vacuum on this front in both Syria and Iraq.
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Turkey’s relations with the Iraqi Kurds in the form of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have also complicated this dynamic.
The KRG has been unilaterally exporting oil to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, but that, too, has been upset by the mysterious shut-down of the export pipeline that took it offline for almost a month and cost the KRG more than it can afford at a time when it has to pay its Peshmerga forces to hold back ISIS in Iraq’s disputed northern territories, particularly around oil-rich Kirkuk.
A section of this pipeline has been rendered inoperable and has cost the KRG $200 million so far, cutting off exports to Turkey. An explosion on this pipeline over three weeks ago was reported without any details, and there still are none that are reliable. Turkey seemed to be blaming the PKK, and the Kurds were keeping silent on the issue. There were no claims of responsibility, which is unusual for both the PKK and ISIS.
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There are now suspicions emerging that the Turks shut down the pipeline themselves in order to launch military operations against the PKK near the section of the pipeline that’s been offline. In fact, the PKK and its affiliates claim that Turkish intelligence took out the pipeline in a targeted operation against the PKK.
Those suspicions gained ground when, on 11 March, reports began to emerge that Turkey gave the KRG $200 million to help out after the pipeline was shut down, according to unnamed industry sources cited by Reuters.
The pipeline is said to have been fixed and resumed pumping three days ago. But its fate should be in question now that Turkey has taken this to the next level, and is pounding PKK positions in northern Iraq.
By Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com