Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Saturday said the Turkish military is in a position to take control of the Qandil Mountains, the stronghold of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq, underlining that a final operation is imminent.
“Qandil was a remote and difficult target for us in the past. There was a view that Turkey wasn’t able to reach it. Now, we can take control of Qandil whenever we want,” Soylu told CNN Türk.
“Turkey will see its heroes soon,” he added.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on Friday said Turkish soldiers are stationed 30 kilometers inside northern Iraq and could advance further to target PKK militants in the Qandil Mountains.
Turkey already carries out regular cross-border air strikes against the PKK in northern Iraq. On Friday, the military said warplanes had struck shelters and weapons stations in Qandil and other areas.
On Thursday night, President Tayyip Erdoğan said if Iraq did not clear the region of PKK militants, Turkey would strike the Sinjar area as well as Qandil, where he says the PKK is also concentrated.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday that Baghdad was ready to coordinate with Ankara to prevent cross-border attacks into Turkey and that Turkish soldiers had been in northern Iraq since the 1980s.
But he called on Turkey to “respect Iraqi sovereignty” while accusing Turkish politicians of raising tensions for domestic purposes.
“We will not accept an assault on Iraqi sovereignty even if it is a Turkish electoral campaign,” he said.
A planned Turkish military offensive in the Qandil Mountains has been slammed by critics and the opposition as a campaign strategy for upcoming elections in Turkey on June 24.
Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Özgür Özel said the government had admitted it would not win the elections and so put the spotlight on the military, while Aytun Çıray of the İYİ (Good) Party said even though they supported every move involved in counterterrorism, the Qandil offensive would be an election campaign rather than an actual military advance.
Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chair Sezai Temelli said the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would use the dead bodies of young soldiers expected to be sent back home after the military operation in order to garner more support.
The PKK’s camp in the Qandil Mountains is some 90 kilometers from the Turkish border. Although the mountains are in northern Iraq, it has a strategic location that is accessible from both Iran and Syria.
Turkey will hold snap presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24.