Monday, October 15, 2007

Another blow to Iraqi stability: Turkey preparing for military strikes in Northern Iraq

A motion before the Turkish parliament will determine whether the Turkish military will be permitted to cross the Iraqi border in pursuit of Kurdish PKK fighters. The motion would permit the military to make as many incursions across the border as necessary for one year. The PKK is a communist militia who seeks an autonomous Kurdistan in the eastern regions of Turkey. They are believed to be using the newly stable Kurdish province of Iraq as a staging ground for their attacks on targets in Turkey. The locals in that province of Iraq sympathize with the PKK's desires for autonomy and have resisted the Maliki government's persistent calls that they halt the PKK's activities in Iraq. The U.S. is understandably concerned over Turkey's apparent desire to invade Iraq. Any move to destabilize that region would endanger the routes through which most of the United States' military supplies move. The Kurds have been viewed as the most reliable allies of the U.S. led coalition out of the three major groups that make up Iraq. The U.S. risks angering the country which houses American airfields and supply bases in Turkey or antagonizing the only benign region of Iraq.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged a diplomatic solution to the tensions on the northern border. The question is who will deal with the Turks to bring about a cessation of attacks originating from Iraq? Maliki's government does not assert real authority outside the Green Zone in Baghdad where they struggle to reach consensus on any significant issues. The Kurds have shown themselves unwilling to crack down on their ethnic brethren and sympathize with the PKK's activities in Turkey. Will the U.S. step in to suppress the PKK? Should the U.S. military attempt to conduct military operations against Kurds it risks alienating the populace of yet another region in Iraq and creating another war zone in the country. The U.S. will be unwilling to risk such a disaster.

The Turks, not unreasonably, see their only recourse as unilateral actions against the PKK. The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted on a resolution dubbing the death of hundreds of thousands of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, and their Kurdish subjects, a holocaust. The resolution led to an outcry from Ankara and their ambassador was temporarily recalled in protest. The vote will occur in the Turkish parliament on Wednesday, and there is every reason to believe they will approve military strikes into Northern Iraq.

Unless Turkey is willing to commit military forces to occupy Northern Iraq, they will not halt the attacks by the PKK on Turkish soil. They cannot hope to root out the 3,000 or so PKK fighters hiding among a friendly local populace without a sustained military presence. Kurdish news sources are claiming that a Turkish invasion would quickly become a 'quagmire'. That is certainly a distinct possibility in the largely pro-PKK Kurdish regions of Iraq. Irregardless of whether Turkey would be willing to invade and suppress a Kurdish population in Iraq, the U.S. would not stand for it. In all likelihood, a Turkish military offensive will result in limited successes followed by a withdrawal and the eventual resumption of attacks by the PKK.

It should be noted that Turkey is not blameless in their Kurdish problem. The father of modern Turkey, Ataturk, brutally suppressed the Kurds in his attempt to secularize the Muslim Kurds. The newly secular Turkey attempted to forcibly assimilate their diverse populace, and the Kurds resisted such assimilation especially when it came to their ethnic language and Islam.

In recent history Turkey, much like Pakistan, has escaped criticism from the U.S. over its treatment of various minority groups due to their willingness to ingratiate themselves with the Americans. Turkey has been unwilling to admit wrong doing and has felt no compulsion to do so, largely due to its friendly relations with the most powerful military in the world. The unwillingness of the Turks to entertain notions that they may have committed egregious sins against any of their citizens has built up decades of resentment in the Kurds and Armenians. The Armenians have been largely powerless to make any response, the Kurds however have reacted violently. Turkey, like every nation, must come to terms with its checkered past if it wishes to reconcile itself with what amounts to seven percent of its population. In the immediate future, Turkey cannot sit still while Kurdish rebels bomb their cities and attack their military. The real solution to the problem will require Turkey to come to terms with its past. The likelihood of that happening in time to prevent a disastrous result to Wednesday's vote is highly unlikely.