KURDS AND TURKS: WILL THEY OR WON’T THEY

Sunday, June 17, 2007
JUAN COLE’S BLOG: INFORMED CONSENT

Kurds and Turks: Will they or Won’t They?

….the atmosphere in Ankara (Turkey’s capital) is of extreme anger about the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government giving safe haven to guerrillas of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK). I mean livid.

It should be remembered that leftist PKK guerrillas are thought to be responsible for the deaths of 35,000 persons in Turkey since 1984. In other words, PKK has done 10 times more damage to Turkey than al-Qaeda has done to the United States. And, that is not even taking into account that Turkey is a fourth the size of the US, so you could say 40 times more. In the piece just linked, F. Stephen Larrabee estimates that “Since January 2006, PKK cross-border raids from safe havens in northern Iraq have led to roughly 600 deaths, many of them members of the Turkish security forces.”

In other words, the Kurdistan Regional Government is playing the Taliban to the PKK’s al-Qaeda, from the point of view of the Turkish government. It is harboring 5,000 PKK fighters. Turkey has a strong and impressive military tradition and does not take casualties in its security forces lightly.

The alleged recent border incursion by several hundred Turkish troops 2 miles into Iraq in hot pursuit of PKK fighters probably did occur….Such incursions are also opportunities for intelligence gathering.

The order for the border incursion probably did not come from that high up. The Turkish commanders at the border have enough authority, I was told, to do a little hot pursuit like that without prior clearance if they feel it is important for military reasons.

I brought up with several observers my nightmare, that the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq will certainly annex Kirkuk later this year, and that there may be as a result clashes between the Kurds and the Turkmen minority. Iraqi Turkmen, some 800,000 strong, have been adopted by the Turks of Turkey as sort of little brothers. I can’t imagine the Turkish public standing for a massacre of Turkmen, and hundreds of thousands of people in the street could force Buyukanit to act decisively.

My colleagues universally agreed that the potential was there for an escalation of the crisis under such conditions. No one said I was exaggerating the risks. One former official who is an expatriate said that before he arrived in Ankara last week, he did not know just how angry people there were over this issue. He is now convinced that the situation is serious.

Partlow points out that if Turkey did take on the Iraqi Kurds over the haven they have given the PKK, the US would likely be forced to support Turkey, a NATO ally acting against a terrorist threat.

….I think the situation in the north has entered a phase of continual crisis in which things could spiral out of control at any moment. I continue to be just amazed that no one in authority in Iraq is taking any steps to try to avert such a crisis. I earlier suggested a partion of Kirkuk province before the referendum as a way of defusing the tensions. But it seems like that the referendum will be held in the whole province and that the whole of it will go to Kurdistan. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has said that this development would be a cause for war in and of itself. The train wreck continues to unfold.

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