Next stage of Euphrates Shield will include Iraq, Turkish president vows

The next stages of the recently concluded Euphrates Shield Operation will be broader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, suggesting that Turkey will move on areas in Iraq.

Speaking in a joint live interview with Turkish TV channels NTV and Star, Erdogan described the Euphrates Shield Operation as the first stage of Turkey’s counter-terrorism road map, saying expanded phases would follow.

A future operation will “not [only have] a Syrian dimension, [but] also an Iraqi dimension. There are the Tal Afar and Sinjar [Turkish for Shingal] situations [in Iraq],” Erdogan said.

Launched in August 2016 and carried out with allied Islamist groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, the Euphrates Shield operation “aimed to improve security, support coalition forces and eliminate the terror threat along the Turkish border”.

It ended on 29 March after Turkey lost around 70 soldiers.

Erdogan said the situation was worse in Iraq’s Shingal region, saying the city was about to become the “second Qandil (referring to PKK bases in mountain range along the Iraq-Turkey border)” for the PKK.

“There are around 2,500 PKK terrorists attempting to create this second Qandil,” Erdogan claimed.

The PKK has had a presence in the region in the north-eastern mountainous outskirts of the Nineveh province since arriving to aid local Yazidi populations after the Islamic State group invaded the city of Shingal in August 2014 and Peshmerga forces under the control of Iraqi-Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani retreated.

Turkey has previously expressed concerns about the PKK’s presence in Shingal and said it would take measures, including deploying troops, to prevent it from securing a base in the region.

The Turkish president also warned that the mostly Shiite Hashd Shaabi group in Iraq was acting as an invasion and occupation force in Iraq. “When we look at it all, there is support for Iranian and Persian nationalism based on sectarianism in Iraq. They disseminate it with sectarianism and spread it on the basis of Persian nationalism,” he said in a repeat of a previously voiced swipe at Iran.