By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
Levels of violence remained steady in Iraq this week with the majority of activity occurring in the central and northern belts, especially along the Tigris River Valley and Baghdad. Transnational influences, both in the west and north have also continued to dominate events as the effect of the civil war in Syria spreads across the region and the PKK ceasefire continues to play out.
A top PKK militant commander warned on Wednesday a fragile peace process had been jeopardized by increased military activity and a lack of concrete steps by the government, including the continued detention of Kurdish politicians. Members of the PKK began a withdrawal from Turkish territory to bases in northern Iraq last month, part of a deal brokered between the state and the group’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan earlier this year aimed at ending a conflict that has claimed 40,000 lives since 1984. He pointed to increased military surveillance and the construction of new army posts in the mainly Kurdish southeast as undermining the rebels’ withdrawal, which is expected to take months.
Among measures the PKK expects is an end to Ocalan’s isolation at his island prison where he is serving a life sentence for treason, and releasing thousands of Kurdish activists and politicians in jail for up to four years during their trials, mostly on charges related Turkeys’ anti-terrorism law. Given the recent events in Istanbul there is of course a strong argument to made that despite the requirement to continue to show genuine intent by Ankara the febrile domestic politics have undoubtedly captured the majority of the Governments attention.
Whilst the situation currently remains calm enough it has the potential to ignite on both sides of the border. The PKK are very much wedged between two hard places. On one hand Ankara wish them out and will use force if necessary and on the other Baghdad have made it very clear that they do not wish the PKK to become part of Iraq and use it as a launching point for operations, or more importantly to have the threat of an independent armed force at strength and located independently in the country’s northern environs and in a location where Baghdad has little influence.