Turkish drones may have targeted pro-Iran militias in Iraq - analysis

This would be the first known incident in which Turkey openly struck at pro-Iran groups there.

Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 UCAV (photo credit: Army.com.ua/CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 UCAV
(photo credit: Army.com.ua/CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Reports claim that air strikes by drones in Iraq targeted a pro-Iranian militia linked to the Popular Mobilization Units. This happened near Bashiqa a day after a rocket attack on a Turkish base in northern Iraq.

Turkey has a number of military bases in northern Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region. Turkey claims to be fighting “terrorists” there. However, the Turkish base near Bashiqa, sometimes called the Zelikan base, is used to overlook Mosul and extend Ankara’s influence.

Pro-Iranian groups based in Nineveh Plains often target this Turkish base. Now Turkey might have responded. The reports from Al-Ain media in the Gulf claim that “in the early hours of Tuesday morning, two drones launched an aerial bombardment targeting the headquarters of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) in the Bashiqa district, northeast of Mosul, in the center of Nineveh Governorate.”

Turkey has used Bayraktar and other drones in its recent conflicts. The report said that two targets were struck. Images posted online also claim a vehicle was struck. The PMUs use trucks onto which they place rockets to fire. These are usually 107mm rockets or 122mm.

A source told Al-Ain that “preliminary information confirms the affiliation of these aircraft to the Turkish forces stationed in northern Iraq.” Two vehicles were struck and there were casualties. If confirmed, this would be the first known incident in which Turkey openly struck at pro-Iran groups in Iraq. The PMUs have some 100,000 fighters and many are linked to Badr, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, all of which are pro-Iran units.

An Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMU) member rides on the back of a pickup truck past a Shi’ite mural in Baghdad, Iraq (credit: REUTERS/MARIUS BOSCH)An Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMU) member rides on the back of a pickup truck past a Shi’ite mural in Baghdad, Iraq (credit: REUTERS/MARIUS BOSCH)

“Tensions are escalating between Baghdad and Ankara against the backdrop of the latter’s launching a new military operation inside Iraqi territory to pursue elements of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) opposing the Turkish regime,” the article says. Turkey wants to extend attacks to Sinjar and also Makhmour and other regions.

The pro-Iran militias want Ankara to stay closer to the border. Turkey recently hosted a Kurdish leader from the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). This appeared as a prelude to Turkey’s new operation. Iran has increasingly targeted the Kurdish capital of Erbil in the KRG. Shi’ite militias of the PMUs also target Kurds.

It is unclear if this is a Turkish message or if Ankara will continue to oppose the PMUs. Iran could also respond.