PKK's decision to withdraw from Sinjar just a ploy

YUNUS PAKSOY @yunuspaksoy

The PKK and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have reached an agreement on the withdrawal of PKK terrorists from the Sinjar area, a KRG news outlet has reported.

According to a news article published in Rudaw, the two sides agreed in principle on the pullout of PKK terrorists, in a mutual decision that comes on the heels of vehement protests from Ankara on the grounds that the area could become a hotbed for PKK terrorists.

A figure close to the PKK told Rudaw, "The PKK and the KRG have reached an agreement on pulling out the forces of the People's Defense Force (HPG) from Sinjar."

Recently, the KRG strictly urged the PKK to withdraw from the Sinjar area, giving the terrorist group an ultimatum while a leader of the PKK later said that the two sides could reach an agreement rather than exchanging threats.

"The time we are in is a crucial period in which the fate of our people will be determined. At such a pivotal stage, the unity of the Kurdish people is more critical than ever. We view this issue in a strategic way. Therefore, we want to solve all existing problems with dialogue," PKK leader Murat Karayılan said.

The KRG has put increasing pressure on the PKK amid repeated warnings to both sides from Turkey. Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalın said in mid-November that Turkey will not let Sinjar become the PKK's "second headquarters," warning both sides and pointing to the terrorist organization's recent activities in Iraq and Syria

Ankara previously said it would take precautionary measures, including the deployment of Turkish soldiers, to prevent PKK terrorists from securing a base in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq.

The report in Rudaw also stated: "Only the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) and the Yezidi Women's Units (YJE) forces will remain – forces comprising of Sinjar's Yezidi population have been tasked with protecting the Yezidi Kurds of the region. Dialogue and negotiations are ongoing between the two."

The YBS and the YJE have known affiliations with the PKK.

"It is a fact that the PKK is under pressure from Baghdad and Erbil to leave the area. We cannot know for sure whether the YBS and YJE will remain strongly connected to the PKK after its withdrawal," Özcan Tikit, a columnist for HaberTürk daily, said.

Even though the PKK claims that it will withdraw from the Sinjar region, questions about the sincerity of these intentions remain. The terrorist group's presence in Syria's Manbij led to a crisis between Turkey and the U.S. and upon the persistent warnings directed at the U.S., the PKK's Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party's (PYD) armed wing the People's Protection Units (YPG) said months ago that it had withdrawn the troops.

However, it was later learned that the YPG had not pulled its troops out of Manbij. To the contrary, the YPG march westwards to attack the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Tikit mulled over whether one can compare the relationship between the PKK and the YPG to the connection between the PKK and the YBS. "It was a mistake in the beginning by Baghdad and Erbil to leave the field to the PKK to arm and organize the YBS. It could change now," he added.

U.S. special envoy Brett McGurk had described the move as a "milestone," saying on Twitter all YPG units would depart Manbij after training local units to maintain the city's security against Daesh. Despite that, the withdrawal did not happen. Ankara had previously declared that a PKK-linked YPG expansion west of the Euphrates River was a "red line."Moreover, Turkish officials consistently reiterated that the U.S. had guaranteed YPG militants would not retain a presence west of the Euphrates River once counter-terrorism operations against Daesh were complete in the region.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım will be in Iraq and the KRG over the weekend. Yıldırım said on Friday prior to his departure that the main agenda will be bettering relations with Baghdad. Relations were strained over the presence of the Turkish military in Bashiqa.

Ankara has repeatedly asserted that it will not withdraw its troops unless the terror threat is eliminated. In addition, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi softened his tone towards Ankara. Abadi said recently that he will look to better ties with Turkey.

Following his visit to Baghdad, the prime minister will travel to Erbil. The prime minister will discuss Turkey's anti-terrorism fight and the aforementioned Sinjar issue.

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