Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Turks - "No Timetable"

By Cernig

U.S SecDef Gates has joined the Iraqi government in calling for Turkey to keep its incursion into Iraq short.
"It's very important that the Turks make this operation as short as possible and then leave," Gates said before departing India. "They have to be mindful of Iraqi sovereignty. I measure quick in terms of days, a week or two, something like that, not months."
However, the Turkish military seems to have no intention of letting either American or Iraqi pressure dictate its operations in Kurdish Iraq. There are reports of more troops being sent to the area of fighting and the Turks have bluntly said:
"Our objective is clear, our mission is clear and there is no timetable until ... those terrorist bases are eliminated," senior Turkish envoy Ahmet Davutoglu said after talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.
It must really put a bug up the Bush administration's ass to hear its own "War On Terror" rhetoric used against it in this way, but it really only has itself to blame. Washington has turned a mostly blind eye to PKK attacks from Iraqi safe havens for years, in return for a mostly quiet North as the primary long-term bright spot of the Iraqi misadventure. They sat on the fence between a Kurdish ally that enabled terrorist groups (which co-incidentally also carry out attacks inside Iran) and their NATO ally - and now they have splinters.

But the current incursion is both a warning and a preamble. Turkey is sending a very unsubtle message. "Get off the fence and reign in these Kurdish groups before the Spring thaw in late-March or April or we'll be over the border in real force and you can kiss goodbye to peace in Northern Iraq. We've proven we can and we've proven you can't do anything about it short of breaking up NATO and starting up an actual war with the most moderate Islamic-majority nation in the region." The unrest which will come from the US and Iraq cracking down on the PKK and PJK will be nothing compared to what would hit the fan then.

At present, as far as I can see, Turkey holds all the cards.

Update Via Tim F at Balloon Juice, Ken Silverstein reports that the Iraqi Kurdish regional government may be planning to mount a resistance to the Turkish incursion:
A former U.S. official who works in northern Iraq emailed me to say:

"The United States is being skillfully handled by the Turks, who are dragging the U.S. into a policy disaster in Kurdistan. The Kurds have moved a lot of fighters and equipment quietly into the area, and are prepared to strike the Turks. Massoud [Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish leader] has issued all the press comments he can to publicly warn that Kurdish patience is gone. The United States is either ignoring the signals or missing them…The Kurds can and will bloody the Turks badly in a fight."

This former official is close to Kurdish officials and hence an interested party, but his previous reports from the ground have been well-informed.
The Kurds couldn't possibly hope to defeat the Turkish military - they're utterly outclassed in terms of both manpower and equipment. But that's not to say they couldn't mount a very effective Hezboullah-style defense that could make the Turks pay a price. If Silverstein's source is correct then the entire Iraqi issue is about to explode. I think it's highly unlikely that the Kurdish regional authorities and their peshmerga could get involved in fighting Turkey while the Iraqi government sat on the sidelines. And if the Iraqi central government gets involved then the US occupation will have to get off the fence or be pushed off.

Let me reiterate here - these upcoming "interesting times" in Iraq are not the kind of mess that, in White House speak, "couldn't have been anticipated". Way back in August 2006 there were reports that diplomats were saying that it was a case of when, not if, Turkey would cross the border unless the US forced Iraq to deal with the PKK. Since then, the signs haven't been difficult to miss.

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