There are conflicting reports today that Turkish forces, perhaps numbering in the "thousands" have eneted Kurdish territory in Northern iraq in pursuit of Kurdish PKK terrorists.
Earlier, DEBKAfile was saying "thousands", but DEBKAfile, despite the wishes of many pro-Israel and anti-Iran warmongers, isn't all that reliable a source.
AP is sticking to its claim of "hundreds", sourced from two anonymous Turkish officials.
However, representatives of the Turkish, Iraqi and US governments have said there's been no such cross-border movement. In the circumstances, Confederate Yankee is right in asking "Who would you believe, three anonymous sources apparently in contact with a solitary reporter, or the two named foriegn ministers of the countries in question, and a named National Security Council spokesman?"
However, the answer to that question isn't as easy as Yankee thinks it is, in my opinion. The Islamist Turkish civilian government is involved in a protracted power struggle with the heavily secular Turkish military right now, with rumors of a coup rife, and would have good reason to deny that the military did something without civilian authorization to put pressure on their own government. The Iraqi government and especially the Kurdish regional authorities have never been above lying to make themselves look better in both local and American eyes - a NATO ally having to conduct cross-border raids against terrorists they've been providing safe haven to just doesn't fit their preferred narrative. And the Bush administration knows it backed itself into a corner over this issue by trading Kurdish quietness against the occupation for freedom of operations for the PKK. All three have personal vested interests for playing any incursion down - and would also be well served by a mutual agreement to deny and reduce tensions in an attempt to stop this turning into a full-scale invasion. If the latter reason is the case, I'm all for it.
But today's report hasn't come out of the blue. Analysts have been saying "its not a matter of if, but when" since at least last December. With that in mind, I've a feeling this passage from the AP gets closest to the truth of what has occured:
“One official said the troops went less than two miles inside Iraq and were still there in late afternoon. “It is a hot pursuit, not an incursion,” one official said.That sounds about right to me and to Michael van der Galien, one of the few bloggers who have been consistently following the developments over the months. It’s not a fullscale invasion - yet - but it is definitely a warm-up, a testing of responses from Iraq and the US. The big event is definitely coming within weeks, IMHO, unless there’s a definite positive response by the US and Iraq to actually clean house so that the Turks don’t have to do it.
Another official said by telephone it was “not a major offensive and the number of troops is not in the tens of thousands.” He also said the Turkish troops went into a remote, mountainous area.”
Reuters, however, is backing up the AP's Turkish anonymous sources with a quote from a Kurdish peshmerga leader:
Jabar Yawir, deputy minister for Peshmerga Affairs in Kurdistan, said: "This afternoon 10 Turkish helicopters landed in a village in Mazouri, which is ... 3 km (2 miles) inside the Iraqi border. They landed with around 150 Turkish special forces." "After two hours they left and there were no confrontations with the PKK," he told Reuters. He said the village was in a PKK-controlled area."Captain" Ed Morissey agrees too, noting that Reuters has the same story of an incursion from different sources.
The US and Turkey will probably act in concert to keep the heat low on this operation, and the US will pressure Turkey to withdraw quickly. However, the US has to do a better job in keeping Kurdish insurgents from provoking these reactions. We cannot afford a shooting war with Turkey in Northern Iraq, and we cannot afford to provoke an Islamist reaction there which will push Turkey farther away from the West.What Ed isn't mentioning, of course, is the way Bush helped create this clusterf**k by looking the other way while terrorists used a US-occupied nation as a safe haven to attack a NATO ally - in return for which, the Kurds kept Norther Iraq peaceful and the PKK also acted as a proxy for deniable attacks on Iran.
If the operation continues for long, expect to see even more complications in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, as the Kurds gear up for a fight against the Turks. This could turn ugly very quickly.
Tim F succinctly explains how bad it could get:
Crossing Iraq’s borders will inflame Kurds from both countries so severely that escalation now seems inevitable. Turkey’s army is creating a situation where any option other than the one they want – a large scale invasion of northern Iraq – becomes practically impossible.Tim is saying the AP report is possibly a false alarm - but I think that it's factual for the reasons outlined above and even if it is a false alarm, sometime very soon another such report won't be.
The political situation for Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki will quickly become untenable unless he can marshal the only credible security force in Iraq, the American army, against the invaders. We obviously cannot act against a NATO ally and Maliki cannot act without our help, so I have a hard time seeing how long his government can survive a shooting war with Turkey. The new Sadrist coalition may get its chance sooner than expected.
One other thought. Today’s incursion follows several days of shelling by both Turkey and Iran. The Iranians also own a chunk of Kurdistan and PKK rebels have terrorized both countries. If Turkey starts carving out pieces of Iraq for itself I wonder how long the healthy Iranian army will go on sitting on its hands.
Lastly, though, I've yet another thought to throw in the pot - what will happen to internal Iraqi politics vis-a-vis nationalist Sunnis and Shias when Turkey launches a full-on operation? Could it bolster Maliki and force Sadr and al-Mutlaq into backing his government again or would it be the final nail in the coffin for the seperatists led by Maliki?