Wednesday :: Feb 27, 2008

Turkey's assault on Iraqi Kurdistan

by Turkana

The Iraq War has escalated. There are so many ways this war could spread, and one is happening. Right now. Ken Silverstein got an email from a "former U.S. official who works in northern Iraq":

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.

It started anew, on Friday. As reported by the Associated Press:

Supported by air power, Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq on Friday in their first major ground incursion against Kurdish rebel bases in nearly a decade. But Turkey sought to avoid confrontation with U.S.-backed Iraq, saying the guerrillas were its only target.

The offensive, which started late Thursday after aircraft and artillery blasted suspected rebel targets, marked a dramatic escalation in Turkey's fight with the PKK rebel group even though Turkish officials described the operation as limited.

A military officer of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq said on condition of anonymity that several hundred Turkish soldiers had crossed the border. The coalition has satellites as well as drones and other surveillance aircraft at its disposal.

That sounded controlled. Limited. Targeted. Contained.

Then, McClatchy added this:

Iraqi Kurdish officials on Friday ordered 6,000 Kurdish militiamen to take up new positions in Iraq's Dohuk province as hundreds of Turkish troops crossed the border in what Turkey said was an attack on Kurdish rebels who'd sought shelter there.

How many Turkish troops had entered Iraq was uncertain. American military officials in Baghdad estimated the number at 1,000, but Kurdish rebels said the incursion involved 10,000 troops.

Commanders of two Kurdish militia organizations confirmed that they'd been ordered to move north in force and that their men were armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, PKC machine guns, which can be used as light anti-aircraft weapons, and assault rifles.

Which would seem to threaten it being controlled, limited, targeted, and contained. But thus far, the militia has refrained from combat. Thus far.

Still, the makeup of the forces suggested that Kurdish Regional President Massoud Barzani probably approved the deployment: More than 4,000 of the Kurdish forces belong to the Zeravany, the military wing of Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party. The remaining 2,000 are members of Iraqi Kurdistan's peshmerga militia, the regional government's armed force.

Barzani has been a frequent critic of the United States and Iraq's central government for their cooperation with Turkey in targeting the PKK, which is widely popular in Iraq's Kurdish region, but which the United States considers a terrorist organization. A confrontation between Turkish forces and the Kurdish militia would be a major escalation in the standoff over PKK attacks in Turkey, which have killed hundreds of Turkish civilians and soldiers in recent years.

By Saturday, it was looking a bit more dangerous. From Agence France-Presse:

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari warned in a BBC interview that Turkey's ground offensive should end quickly before it destabilises the region.

"This is a limited military incursion into a remote, isolated and uninhabited region," Zebari said.

"But if it goes on, I think it could destabilise the region, because really one mistake could lead to further escalation."

He added that the Iraqi government had only been informed "in the last minute" before the raid.

It's nice that they were informed. Iraqi Kurdistan being invaded by Turkey, with the goal of rooting out a separatist group, and with the inevitable "collateral damage," and the possibility of an escalation. But the Iraqi government remains calm. It's only a limited invasion of one Iraqi people's homeland.

And on Sunday, the Iraqi government had changed its mind. Maybe this wasn't something they should just sit back and allow to happen. Agence France-Presse explained:

The Iraqi government pushed Ankara on Sunday to withdraw its troops from northern Iraq, after the Turkish army warned Iraqi Kurds not to shelter Kurdish rebels fleeing its offensive in the region.

As fighting intensified, the Turkish military said it had killed another 33 militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), taking the rebel toll to 112 since the launch of its cross-border incursion Thursday evening.


A statement by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government urged Turkey "to withdraw its forces from Iraqi soil as soon possible" and specifically described the operation as "a threat to Iraqi sovereignty."

"The government of Iraq calls on Turkey to respect its sovereignty and unity and considers that the unilateral operation across the border is a threat to the region," the statement said.

Previously, Baghdad had appeared to accept Turkey's assertions that the offensive posed no threat to its territorial integrity.

Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds are both US allies, and the likelihood of armed confrontation between the two has been a major cause of concern for Washington as it seeks to avoid a relatively stable area of conflict-torn Iraq being thrown into chaos.

Yes. A threat to Iraqi sovereignty. You would think. Not that Iraq really has much sovereignty, to begin with, but it's a valid point. But it doesn't seem like Turkey's listening. The Guardian had this, Monday:

Turkey sent military reinforcements into northern Iraq yesterday as clashes with militants from the Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK) continued for a fourth day. According to the Turkish army, another 25 tanks crossed the border to help the hunt for PKK fighters, whom Turkey accuses of launching attacks on its forces from bases in the sparsely populated mountains along the Turkish-Iraqi border.

"The bombings are continuing by land and by air; the clashes are becoming heavier," a Turkish military source told the Reuters news agency.

Roj TV, the voice of the PKK, reported that 5,000 Turkish troops with 60 tanks had launched an offensive against the militants early yesterday in the Matin mountains. Ahmed Deniz, a PKK spokesman, told the Guardian that fierce fighting was continuing in several places along the border.

And Agence France-Presse had this, yesterday:

Turkish troops, backed by fighter jets, closed in on a main rebel base Tuesday in their offensive against Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq that has so far claimed at least 170 lives.

Regional security forces in the Kurdish-administered autonomous region reported sustained fighting overnight as Turkish soldiers advanced on the base in the Zap area.

The camp, situated in a deep valley just a six-kilometer (four-mile) walk from the Turkish border, has been identified by the military as a major staging post used by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels to launch attacks into Turkish territory.

The Turkish army says it has killed 153 rebels and lost 17 soldiers since it launched its cross-border incursion against PKK bases in northern Iraq on Thursday evening.

Ankara says an estimated 4,000 rebels use the region as a safe haven to organise cross-border raids in their struggle for self-rule in southeast Turkey.

The PKK, whose armed separatist campaign has claimed more than 37,000 lives since 1984, claims to have killed 81 soldiers since the offensive began.

So, things don't seem to be wrapping up. They seem to be escalating. And the Los Angeles Times suggests that they may escalate further:

An official with the Kurdistan regional government, Mohammed Muhsin, said the local administration did not want to become part of the conflict but that there was a line over which Turkey must not cross.

"From our side, we have a red line: when our safe villages and the citizens are being attacked by the Turkish army," he said. "We will strike with all that we've got, and the people will participate with the peshmerga."

But as for that whole Iraqi sovereignty thing, the Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The Iraqi Interior Minister, Jawad Bolani, suggested the US should do more to stop the fighting, which has left villagers stranded.

"They are the greatest force on the ground. They have certain obligations," Mr Bolani said on Monday of the US military, which has neither intervened in nor commented on the Turkish incursion. "They could do more."

But don't expect Bush to offer any help. Neither Iraq's "government," nor the local Kurdish leaders have any say. As McClatchy put it, yesterday:

As the Iraqi government watched in anguish Monday, Turkey's ambassador to the United States set an ambitious goal for his country's incursion into the northern Kurdistan region of Iraq: "to eliminate" a Kurdish rebel force of at least 4,000 fighters.

In Washington, the Bush administration left no doubt of its overall support for the Turkish operation to deal with the Kurdistan Worker's Party, commonly known as the PKK, which both the Bush administration and Europe consider to be a terrorist organization.

And today, Turkey has again increased the attacks, with Washington saying the invasion shouldn't last more than a week or two! The latest from Agence France-Presse:

Turkey stepped up its offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq on Wednesday and refused to set a pull-out timetable, despite a US warning that the incursion should last no more than "a week or two."

The military said 77 separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants were killed overnight in "the heaviest clashes" since its forces rolled over the border into the snow-bound mountains of northern Iraq last week.

That brought the army toll of PKK dead to 230, while its own losses climbed to 27 with the deaths since Tuesday evening of five soldiers and three government-armed Turkish Kurd militiamen helping the army.

As fighter jets continued to pound rebel positions on the sixth full day of the incursion, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates made it clear that US support for its NATO ally was not open-ended.

The offensive must end quickly, he said.

"I measure quick in terms of days, or a week or two, something like that. Not months," he said in New Delhi before flying to Ankara for talks.

Okay, a week or two or something like that. Yes, that sounds like a push for a quick end. And innocent Kurds, and the expressed will of the alleged Iraqi leaders, be damned. Literally. As Bush blunders into yet another disaster.

Turkana :: 2:23 PM :: Comments (15) :: Digg It!