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International armed conflict in Iraq

Conflict type: International armed conflict

Due to the use of force by Turkey on Iraqi territory without the consent of the Iraqi government, there is an international armed conflict in Iraq between Turkey and Iraq.

There is an international armed conflict between Turkey and Iraq due to the airstrikes by Turkey targeting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party PKK in northern Iraq without the consent of the Iraqi government. The Turkish airstrikes against the PKK are an extension of the ongoing non-international armed conflict in Turkey between the Turkish armed and security forces and the PKK.

For an international armed conflict to exist, there must have been a resort to armed force involving at least two states. Under an expansive view, there is an international armed conflict when states carry out military operations directed against non-state armed groups in the territory of another state without the latter’s consent, regardless of whether or not the territorial state responds with armed force or whether there are actual clashes between the two states’ armed forces. Albeit controversial, the RULAC project adopts this position. For further information on the classification of the use of force against non-state armed groups in another state’s territory without the latter’s consent, see 'contemporary challenges - relevance of consent' in our classification section. Unlike for non-international armed conflicts, there is no requirement for the violence to reach a certain threshold for international armed conflicts. For further information, see 'international armed conflict - a low threshold' in our classification section. This position does not exclude that there may be a parallel non-international armed conflict between the intervening state and the targeted non-state armed group, provided that the criteria for a non-international armed conflict are fulfilled. For further information, see 'contemporary challenges - targeting non-state armed groups abroad' in our classification section.

Against the background of the renewed non-international armed conflict in Turkey, Turkey launched airstrikes targeting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party PKK in northern Iraq in July 2015. The airstrikes against the PKK  continued in 2016 C. Yeginsu, ‘Turkey Attacks Kurdish Militant Camps in Northern Iraq’, The New York Times, 25 July 2015; C. Yeginsu, ‘Turkey Escalates Airstrikes on Kurdish Targets in Northern Iraq', The New York Times, 29 July 2015; C. Letsch and Reuters, ‘Turkey Steps Up Bombing of Kurdish Targets in Iraq’, The Guardian, 29 July 2015 ; ‘Turkey Hits Kurdish Targets After Ankara Bombing’, Al Jazeera, 19 February 2016; I. Sariyuce, J. Sterling, and H. Atay Alam, ‘Turkish Warplanes Wallop Syria, Iraq Targets’, CNN, 29 August 2016. , 2017 'Turkey Targets Kurdish Fighters in Iraq and Syria', Al Jazeera, 25 April 2017; M. R. Gordon and K. Kakol, 'Turkish Strikes Target Kurdish Allies of U.S. in Iraq and Syria', The New York Times, 25 April 2017. , and January 2018. 'Turkish Jet Hit 8 Targets in Northern Iraq-Andalou', Reuters, 30 January 2018.  In September 2015, Turkish troops entered Iraq for the first time in over two years to pursue suspected PKK members. ‘Turkey Sends Ground Forces into Iraq After Militant Attack’, BBC, 8 September 2015.  In October 2017 and January 2018, Turkey reportedly launched new ground operations in northern Iraq against the PKK . 'Turkish Army Engages in Northern Iraq for the First Time in Nine Years', Hürriyet Daily News, 18 October 2017; 'Turkey Launches First Ground Operation in Northern Iraq', AMN, 14 January 2018.

The Iraqi government condemned the Turkish airstrikes. A. Barnard, 'Turkey's Focus on Crushing Kurdish Separatists Complicates the Fight Against ISIS', The New York Times, 28 July 2015.‘Iraq’s Stance Towards Turkey’s Operations on PKK Terrorists Is Disappointing: Foreign Ministry’, Daily Sabah, 31 July 2015; ‘Iraqi Government Condemns Turkish Airstrikes on PKK in Kurdistan’, Rudaw, 28 July 2015. In December 2015, during a meeting of the Security Council following the Turkish deployment of additional troops to protect their base set up near the Iraqi city of Mosul, used to provide training to Iraqi militia fighting the Islamic State group, the Turkish representative argued that Turkey 'has been under attack not only by Daesh but also by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) terrorist organization’, based in Iraq. ‘It is our right to exercise self-defence’, as ‘both Daesh and the PKK continue to pose significant threats to Turkey’s safety and security from areas beyond the reach of the Iraqi Government.’ Albeit not referring to the Turkish airstrikes, the Iraq representative highlighted that ‘Iraq rejects any military movements of a counter-terrorist nature without the knowledge and prior approval of the Iraqi federal authorities.’ 7589th meeting of the Security Council, 18 December 2015, UN doc S/PV.7589 During discussions in the Security Council in May 2017, the Iraqi representative stated that 'on 25 April 2017, in a clear and flagrant violation of our sovereignty, good neighbourliness, the rules of international humanitarian law and the Charter of the United Nations, Turkish forces illegally entered Iraqi airspace and territory by bombarding the Mount Sinjar region of northern Iraq with more than 20 bombs, which led to the killing and wounding of members of the Peshmerga Iraqi forces.' Moreover, 'the Council must demand that Turkey withdraw its forces from Iraqi territory and respect good neighbourliness in order to ensure international and regional peace and security.' 7945th meeting of the Security Council, 22 May 2017, UN doc S/PV.7945, p 18.

However, neither Turkey nor Iraq have publicly stated that they are involved in an international armed conflict.

Both Syria and Turkey are party to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions. Iraq is also a party to the 1977 Additional Protocol I applicable to international armed conflicts. In addition, they are bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable to international armed conflicts.Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on an extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database on customary international humanitarian law. In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict.

Last updated: Thursday 15th February 2018