In the latest provocation between Turkey and Iraq, the Turkish military begun deploying tanks and other armored vehicles to the town of Silopi near the Iraqi border, in a move the defense minister said on Tuesday was related to the fight against terrorism and developments across the border.
As a reminder, Iraq had previously slammed the presence of Turkish troops on its territory, when on October 5 Baghdad warned of "regional war" if Turkey does not withdraw its force.
That threat, however, was lost on the Turkish defense minister, Fikri Isik who said Turkey had "no obligation" to wait behind its borders and would do what was necessary if Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants took a foothold in northwest Iraq's Sinjar region, around 115 km (71 miles) south of Silopi. "We will not allow the threat to Turkey to increase," he told broadcaster A Haber in an interview.
The army deployment, disclosed by military sources, came after President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey was aiming to reinforce its troops in Silopi.
Photos from the sources showed a long column of vehicles, including tanks, tank rescue vehicles and construction vehicles in single file on a dual carriageway.
As Reuters reports, the deployment coincides with an Iraqi operation to drive Islamic State from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and after Iraqi Shi'ite militias launched a related offensive to push the jihadists out of the town of Tal Afar further west. Erdogan said on Saturday Ankara would have a "different response" for Shi'ite militias if they "cause terror" in Tal Afar, home to a sizeable ethnic Turkmen population with historic and cultural ties to Turkey.
Sinjar, where Ankara believes the PKK is developing a presence, is situated some 50 km west of Tal Afar. Additionally, Sirnak province, where Silopi is located, is also one of the main areas of conflict between Turkey's army and the PKK, whose main bases are in the mountains of northeast Iraq.
Iraq's response, as expected, came fast, and in a tweet by the official Twitter account of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units fighting ISIS in Iraq, the PMU said that "Any Turkish invasion of Ezidi Sinjar will face the full force of the Iraqi PMU to defend our lands from Turkey", effectively threatening Turkey with war should Turkey's tanks cross the border.
In July, the Iraqi government officially incorporated the Iranian-supported Popular Mobilization Front (PMF) as an “independent military formation” in Iraq’s security forces. The move, which was approved by Iraq’s prime minister in February, is disturbing as it establishes the PMF as a parallel security organization akin to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Influential PMF commanders have openly expressed their affinity for Iran’s supreme leader and the head of IRGC’s Qods Force.
The establishment of the Popular Mobilization Front, or Hashid al Shaabi, as a permanent and separate security entity was codified by Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi on Feb. 22, 2016, according to an official government document published by Al Arabiya.
In other words, should Erdogan proceed with another "preemptive" land invasion in Iraq, not only will the Iraq army retaliate, but he may also bring Iran into the conflict.