BY ZEYNEP GURCANLI
Turkey started the week with a new operation in Northern Iraq.
It was announced that the aim of the operation, called “claw-lock”, carried out with coordinated air and land forces, is to destroy the PKK terrorist organization elements across the border.
However, this is not the only goal, of course. It seems that the “Claw Lock” operation will have critical consequences in domestic, foreign, and energy policy, beyond its effects on terrorism.
THE GOVERNMENT’S FOREIGN POLICY ARM WILL RELAX
It is clear that the operation is an opportunity for the AK Party, which has received serious criticism in its foreign policy, to quiet chatter – at least temporarily.
For example, the government decided to transfer the case of the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia. The transfer of the Khashoggi case – a murder by the Saudi state criticized all over the world and by the Turkish government – led to raised eyebrows even within the AKP’s own ranks.
Similarly, within the framework of normalization with Israel, Turkey’s tempered reaction to the attacks on Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa Mosque earned in widespread criticism from its base.
That’s when the “Claw Lock” operation was carried. Criticisms of the AK Party, especially from the conservative base, were postponed by this operation, though it is not a permanent solution.
DOMESTIC POLICY SHIFT
The economic crisis, inflation, and unemployment were all headaches for the AK Party government. Now, they have been put on the back burner as a result of the cross border operation. That is – for now.
The possible cost of the operation, on the other hand, will help the AK Party-MHP alliance, which is trying to employ the rhetoric that “survival is more important than unemployment and hunger.” Isn’t such a critical operation a great reason to ask the public for a “little more patience” in the face of economic crisis?
The AKP could also use the operation and opposition response – to shine light on the cracks in the opposition alliance.
A SOLUTION TO THE ENERGY CRISIS?
It seems inevitable that the operation will have an impact on global energy security. Here, too, the Barzani administration in Northern Iraq comes into play.
The Barzani administration needs serious international support for its legal dispute with the Iraqi central government over oil and gas. With a decision on February 15 the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court ruled that the natural gas and oil law enacted by the Kurdish autonomous administration in Northern Iraq was “contrary to the Iraqi Constitution” and therefore the region had to hand over all revenues from oil and natural gas that it produced and sold to Baghdad.
This decision means that the Barzani administration in Northern Iraq loses all its autonomy financially. In order to overcome this, Barzani has sought to obtain international approval for the sale of oil and natural gas, using the opportunity created by the Ukraine crisis.
The biggest possible “ally” for the Barzani administration here is, of course, Turkey.
The fact that the claw-lock operation took place right after the meeting between Prime Minister Masrour Barzani of the KRG and President Erdogan is proof of this. Barzani stopped by Turkey on his way to London to discuss the transfer of Northern Iraqi oil and gas to the West. Barzani, who was accepted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself in London, preferred to go to this meeting with the support and cooperation of Turkey.
In the oil/natural gas bottleneck that emerged with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the delivery of Northern Iraq oil and gas to Europe became of key importance.
Turkey’s increase of dominance in Northern Iraq with this cross-border operation may also enable it to have a say in the transfer of energy resources from the region to the West.
As a matter of fact, just hours after the start of the Mehmetçik operation in Northern Iraq, news began to emerge that Turkish forces were supported by Barzani forces in the region. Although the Kurdish administration in Northern Iraq said that the Peshmerga were deployed to protect the civilian population in the operation area, news that the Turkish and Northern Iraqi forces were acting together immediately appeared in the international press.
WILL THE OPERATION EXTEND TO KANDIL?
Given all of this, we can say that the Claw Lock operation is a “multi-pronged operation” for the ruling AK Party government.
The question here is whether the operation will extend to Kandil, which is a symbolic hold for the PKK terrorist organization.
Kandil is a critical target for Turkey both politically and sociologically. Would the dismantling of the PKK’s Qandil headquarters be a spark to ignite calls for early elections, which is still being discussed in Ankara these days?
Only time will tell.