Friday, February 22, 2008

Turks in Northern Iraq (again)

The Voice of America is reporting that most of a Turkish division or equivalent has crossed the Turkish-Kurdistan border for some type of significant ground operation. Turkey has long had a small number of special operations units in northern Iraq and Kurdistan, and has launched smaller battalion and brigade size raids. This is one of the larger raids since the US began occupying Iraq:

The Turkish military says it has launched a land offensive across the border into northern Iraq to attack suspected Kurdish rebels...

Turkish television reports say 10,000 troops were taking part in the operation. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said his government was not aware of any Turkish ground offensive into Iraq....

Reuters is adding some more details confirming that this is a limited duration raid but that ""Thousands of troops have crossed the border and thousands more are waiting at the border to join them if necessary."

The two major Kurdish parties don't have a massive amount of love for the PKK, but they are fierce defenders of the territory and concept of a de-facto quasi-sovereign sub-state of Kurdistan, so this is not what they want/need. If the raid lasts for more than a couple of days, there will be significant pressure for the peshmerga to begin active guerrilla operations against the large Turkish force if that force presses too far south.

Update By Cernig

Could this be what kicked off the current operation? McClatchy is reporting that Kurdish Peshmerga troops yesterday surrounded a Turkish military base, one of five they've had on Iraqi soil since 1997, after Turkish tanks there moved to control neighbouring roads.
Kurdish soldiers from the peshmerga militia, which is loyal to the Kurdish Regional Government, moved to stop them. For an hour and a half, the two sides faced off before the Turkish soldiers retreated to their base, which is about 27 miles northeast of the city of Dahuk. The peshmerga surrounded the base and remained there as of late Thursday.

The Turkish troop movement was accompanied by artillery and airstrikes that targeted mountain areas held by rebels from the Kurdistan Workers’Party, which is known by its initials as the PKK. A spokesman for the peshmerga, Jabar Yawar, said the shelling began at about 11 a.m. and continued past midnight.

“This is a matter of the sovereignty of Iraq and the unity of Iraq,” said Falah Bakir, the head of the foreign relations department of the regional government. “We hope that there will be no clashes – the Kurdistan Regional Government has done enough to show our goodwill to Turkey.”

Bakir said the regional government has tightened security at checkpoints, airports and hospitals to stop PKK movements, but that the Turkish military has continued its buildup. He called for the Iraqi central government and U.S. military to step in to stop what he called Turkey’s “abnormal movements.”

In Baghdad, Iraqi government officials held tense meetings with American officials to stem the crisis in one of the only peaceful areas of Iraq.

“We have to do something,”said a senior Iraqi official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We cannot keep quiet and keep digging our heads in the sand.”
One word. Powderkeg.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration seems, at least, very aware of the potential for disaster.
Reflecting the depth of U.S. concern about the incursion, said to involve thousands of Turkish troops, spokesmen for the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department all made statements calling on Turkey to limit the scope of its operation.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson voiced concern directly to authorities in Ankara.

"Our strong counsel to the Turkish government is to conclude, as quickly as possible, these operations, to limit them strictly and solely to PKK targets, and to work directly with the Iraqi government - this includes the Kurdish Regional Government, on any long-term solution to the threat of the PKK," he said. "Everybody agrees - we, the Turkish government and others - that the PKK is a terrorist organization and a threat that needs to be dealt with."

The United States has recently stepped up intelligence cooperation with Turkey over the PKK, which has staged several lethal attacks into Turkey in recent months from mountain camps in northern Iraq.

McCormack, however, said Turkey planned and executed the current operation on its own. At the White House, spokesman Scott Stanzel said the United States was notified in advance of the Turkish action and said he understood Iraqi authorities were informed as well.
I bet Kurdish regional authorities weren't though - and that the central government apparently was and didn't move to stop a division-sized invasion will seriously piss them off.

If the situation weren't so dangerously volatile, I'd enjoy watching the Bushies cack their flannels over this - after all, they created this situation by sticking their heads in the sand in a deliberate quid-pro-quo with Kurdish groups in exchange for a quite North these last few years. Now they're reaping the rewards of that cynical move, which allowed terror attack to continue on a NATO ally.

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