| Ander Nieuws week 46 / nieuwe oorlog 2007 |
Strike on PKK in northern Iraq is a bid to keep civil war from erupting in the one region Washington can claim any success
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
October 29, 2007
By Mark MacKinnon
Within hours of the deadly clash in eastern Turkey that left 12 Turkish soldiers and a reported 32 Kurdish fighters dead, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on the phone to Ankara, pleading with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for restraint.
It was a phone call that, so far, has forestalled a major Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq.
With Turkish popular anger sky-high over the cross-border attacks by separatist fighters from the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, Ms. Rice told Mr. Erdogan two things: that she took the PKK problem "very seriously" and that the United States had a plan to deal with it, if Mr. Erdogan would give her a few days before reacting.
Turkey has waited expectantly for over a week now, and Ms. Rice's plan is finally starting to emerge. Rather than the Turkish military going it alone with a large-scale ground operation that would likely inflame Kurdish nationalism on both sides of the border, talk here has shifted to the likelihood of some kind of limited joint U.S.-Turkish strike.
The attack, which is expected to begin shortly after a meeting between Mr. Erdogan and U.S. President George W. Bush on Nov. 5, would limit its aims to destroying PKK bases in the region while preserving the fragile alliance between Ankara and Washington.
While the White House has remained tight-lipped - other than to publicly chastise the PKK as "terrorists" while warning Turkey that an invasion would be counterproductive - Mr. Erdogan debriefed selected journalists who travelled with him to London last week after the latest fighting. "I have never seen Americans this frenetic," Mr. Erdogan was quoted as saying, referring to Ms. Rice's desperate diplomacy since the Oct. 21 attack.
The operation reportedly would involve a small number of troops, backed by air support. Despite the widespread public sentiment in Turkey that the real problem is Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, who heads the Kurdistan Regional Government that runs northern Iraq and has been accused of providing aid to the PKK, his administration apparently will not be targeted.
It's small wonder that the prospect of Turkey invading northern Iraq would cause panic in Washington. The area governed by Mr. Barzani is the lone oasis of relative peace and prosperity in the country, the only place where the Bush administration can honestly claim to have achieved its aim of "spreading freedom" in the Middle East.
The potential for the Kurdish north to be dragged into the civil war that has engulfed the rest of the country is already increasing by the week as Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen (the ethnic kin of Turkey's Turks) battle for control of the ethnically mixed and oil-rich city of Kirkuk. A car bomb there - now a frequent occurrence in the once-calm city - killed at least eight Kurds yesterday.
Turkey and the Kurds are two of the staunchest U.S. allies in the Middle East, and seeing them come to blows would be a disaster for U.S. foreign policy in the region. If it were as simple as choosing between them, Turkey - which in addition to being a NATO partner that hosts U.S. air bases crucial to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is a key energy corridor for oil and gas flowing to the West - would surely win out as the more important friend.
But, as usual when the Bush administration dabbles in the Middle East, there's also the Iran factor. The United States has been providing support to Kurdish separatist groups in Iran that also have links to the PKK and bases in northern Iraq. In the event of a U.S. war against Tehran, the United States will count on them to rise up against Tehran as Iraq's Kurds did against Saddam Hussein. If Turkey unilaterally goes into northern Iraq to crush the PKK, Iran could use it as a precedent and move to crush Kurdish groups both within its own borders and inside Iraq.
There will be a flurry of high-profile diplomatic activity in the coming days, ostensibly aimed at averting a military incursion: Ms. Rice arrives in Turkey on Thursday, ahead of a regional summit on Iraq's security that begins the next day in Istanbul. Then Mr. Erdogan heads for Washington.
But Mr. Erdogan's remarks suggest that a decision has already been made. Turkey will attack and U.S. participation, or at least support, will serve as notice to Tehran that nobody takes action in Iraq without Washington's approval. With public anger in Turkey still red-hot, many here say there is no other way out.
"We don't see anything coming from the Iraqi government, which isn't in control of [the border area] anyway, so that eliminates a non-military solution," said Cengiz Aktar, a professor of European Studies at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul. "The only remaining option left looks like military action by Turkey."
The battle is already raging on Turkish soil. Some 8,000 Turkish troops engaged suspected PKK rebels in the east of the country yesterday, near the Iraqi border, reportedly killing some 20 fighters. Turkey has massed some 100,000 soldiers in the frontier region, backed by tanks, helicopters and fighter jets, ready to hunt down the 3,000 PKK members who are believed to be based in the mountains of northern Iraq.
Despite warnings that any offensive could reignite the ethnic strife that killed more than 30,000 people in the 1980s and 1990s, the Turkish public is clamouring for the military to hit the PKK hard.
It's unclear whether a limited "joint" strike will cool emotions in Turkey. Thousands of Turks marched all weekend in demonstrations around the country calling for all-out war against the PKK and Mr. Barzani's regime. "Damn the PKK!" flag-waving crowds chanted in one of several angry protests that broke out yesterday on Istanbul's bustling Taksim Square. "We are all soldiers! Give us guns!"
"The Turkish media is pushing very hard [for war] and the public is completely upside-down," Prof. Aktar said. "I'm afraid the government isn't in control of this process any more."
© Copyright 2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.
| Ander Nieuws week 46 / nieuwe oorlog 2007 |