Turkey is reportedly planning to launch a military incursion into northern Iraq in an alleged bid to target the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), viewed by Ankara as a terrorist organization.
Turkey’s pro-government Yeni Safak daily reported on Thursday that the campaign would begin in late April or May, after the April 16 referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.
Dubbed Tigris Shield, the mission would involve thousands of tanks, vehicles and artillery pieces used in Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria, which ended in March after seven months, the report added.
The report further accused the PKK of having built up nine camps in the northern Iraqi Sinjar district since 2014, when the group moved in to fight Daesh terrorists.
The new operation in Iraq is aimed at cutting off any contact between Sinjar and the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan to the north as well as preventing cooperation between the PKK in Iraq and Kurdish forces in Syria, the report added.
Earlier this week, Erdogan stressed that the Operation Euphrates Shield was only the "first stage" of what he called Turkey’s counter-terrorism battle.
He also warned that the next phases of the operation would be broader, and include the Iraqi areas of Sinjar and Tal Afar.
Since July 2015, Turkish air force has been carrying out operations against the PKK positions in the country’s troubled southeastern border region as well as in northern Iraq and neighboring Syria.
A shaky ceasefire between Ankara and the PKK that had stood since 2013 was declared null and void by the militants following Turkish strikes against the group.
Turkey deployed its troops to Iraq in December 2015, claiming that it was part of a mission to train Iraqi Kurdish forces in the fight against Daesh. Some 500 Turkish forces are said to be present at the Bashiqa military camp on the outskirts of the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Baghdad has repeatedly asked Ankara to withdraw its forces from the region, describing Turkey’s military presence in Iraq as an infringement on its sovereignty.
Police, activists clash in Istanbul
Separately on Thursday, Turkish police clashed with activists protesting against the detention of senior staff of the Cumhuriyet newspaper.
Four demonstrators were arrested while another was injured in scuffles outside the Caglayan courthouse in the Turkish city of Istanbul.
The protesters denounced a recent announcement by prosecutors to seek between 7.5 and 15 years in prison for the editor-in-chief and 18 other Cumhuriyet editorial staff members for allegedly targeting President Erdogan.
The defendants have also been accused of being linked to the PKK and US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen.