Iraqi military chiefs denied on Sunday that Turkish troops had crossed the border into Iraq despite a claim by Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey had launched a military operation against PKK militants in Sinjar.
“We said we would go into Sinjar. Now operations have begun there. The fight is internal and external,” the Turkish president said.
But Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said: “The situation in Nineveh, Sinjar and the border areas is under the control of Iraqi security forces and there is no reason for troops to cross the Iraqi border into those areas.”
Sources in Sinjar said there was no unusual military activity in the area on Sunday.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades. Erdogan said last week they were creating a new base in Sinjar, and that Turkish forces would attack if necessary.
Sources in northern Iraq said on Friday the PKK would withdraw from Sinjar, where it gained a foothold in 2014 after coming to the aid of the Yazidi minority community, who were under attack by Daesh militants.
Turkish troops and their Syrian opposition allies swept into Afrin in northwest Syria this month after an eight-week campaign to drive Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters from the region. Turkey sees the YPG as terrorists and an extension of the outlawed PKK.
Erdogan has vowed to extend the military operation along the Syrian border and said on Sunday that Turkish-led forces would take control of the town of Tel Rifaat.
Turkish troops will aim for the Menagh military airport, which was used until recently by Russia, while the Free Syrian Army will target Tel Rifaat itself, Mete Sohtaoglu, a Middle East researcher in Istanbul, told Arab News.
But experts expect a shorter military offensive than the Afrin operation. “At the end of this operation, Turkey will surely establish a military base here to maintain its presence,” Sohtaoglu said.
Oytun Orhan, a Syria analyst at ORSAM, a think tank in Ankara, said Tel Rifaat was a predominantly Arab town whose residents were close to the FSA, and Free Syrian Army fighters want to take revenge on their YPG rivals in the region over past struggles.
“It is also a strategic town to put pressure on Aleppo,” Orhan told Arab News.
However, he said, it was important for Turkey to have a clearly defined agreement with Moscow about such an operation, because before the Afrin incursion Ankara and Moscow had agreed that it would not be extended to Tel Rifaat.
Fatih Yildiz, Turkish ambassador to Iraq, rejected any military operation in Iraq. He said on his official Twitter account: “I would like to inform you that there is no military operation carried out by Turkey currently against the presence of PKK in Sinjar.”