November 13, 2007
Let's Talk Turkey
With Thanksgiving so near I figured this would be a good time to talk turkey about Turkey.
What's this all about?
Turk gunships strike inside Iraq
* Turkish helicopter gunships attack abandoned villages in Iraqi territory
* First major action against Kurdish rebels since Turkish PM met U.S. Pres. Bush
* Turkey threatens to launch major counter-terrorism incursion into northern Iraq
* Nearly 50 people in Turkey killed by hit-and-run PKK raids since September
SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq (AP) -- Turkish helicopter gunships attacked villages inside Iraq on Tuesday, Iraqi officials said, the first such air strike since border tensions have escalated in recent months...It also was the first major Turkish action against Kurdish rebels since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met President Bush in Washington earlier this month. (Full Story)
Add this mounting mess on the Turkish/Iraq border to the "Oh what a tangled mess.." file. If you've been watching this mounting crisis you might have asked yourself something like this:
"If the Kurds in Iraq are "on our side," and we are in virtual control of things in Iraq, why don't US troops lay the law down with the Kurds as in , "Put your PKK dogs back on their leashes." And if they refuse, why don't US troops just obliterate PKK camps and hideouts as we do when we find al Qaeda hideouts? After all, Washington has already declared the PKK a terrorist group."
Forget about it. Here's what's really going on.
US planners know that (surge successes aside,) the days for a unified Iraq are numbered. Sooner or later -- likely sooner -- that pretend nation will fracture along tribal lines just as the former Yugoslavia did. When that happens the only friends the US is likely to have left in those parts would be the newly independent Kurds of the then former Iraq. Visions of permanent military bases and CIA listening posts along the Iranian border dance in the minds of Pentagon planners.
The only thing that could throw a monkey wrench into that vision is US troops attacking PKK fighters to assuage neighboring Turkey. PKK rebels enjoy deep support and admiration among rank and file Kurds and any active US military action against them would almost certainly turn rank and file Kurds against the US.
Even if Iraq does not break apart Pentagon planners now understand that a long-term US presence in Iraq is unlikely to be allowed by the Iranian-backed government in Baghdad. The only place left in Iraq where US troops might still be welcomed five or ten years from now is the within the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
Which is why, when asked recently at a news conferencewhat US troops were doing about PKK rebels the general in charge of that region responded bluntly, "Nothing. Not a thing."
The administration's strategy towards this festering sore can best be described as "benign neglect" -- tell the Turks what they want to hear, ask the Kurds to restrain the PKK and then do nothing that might offend either side. Because the administration's choices -- all the choices -- carry their own risks. While the Kurds may be of future use to Pentagon planners, cooperation right now from Turkey is critical US military operations through out Iraq. If we piss off Turkey by openly supporting the Kurds, the Turks could retaliate by denying the US military use of Turkey's giant Incirlik Air Base. If that happened US forces in Iraq would be up Shit Creek ...no paddle, no boat.
So, how has Bush benign neglect strategy worked so far?
Well Turkey has now massed over 100,000 combat troops along it's boarder with Iraq/Kurdistan. PKK rebels have continued to make trouble by killing and kidnapping Turkish soldiers. And now the Turks are beginning to strike back, albeit in a restrained manner -- so far.
It's another Bush administration military crap shoot disguised as a strategy. If they pull it off, meaning: the Turks never launch a full-scale attack and the Kurdish baby-nation survives the split up of Iraq and become a US-friendly ally in the region -- the neo-cons will point to the whole thing as proof they were right all along. (Never mind that a balkanized Iraq would be just the opposite of their originally stated goal.)
If, on the other hand, things go terribly wrong -- as they seem to do with alarming predictability with this administration -- the world will truly have a mess on its hands:
* The Turks get hit by the PKK one time too many and the Turkish army launches a massive ground incursion into northern Iraq,
* The large Kurdish minority in eastern Turkey sides with their brothers and sisters in Iraq and an all out insurgency breaks out inside Turkey itself,
* Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq have already pledged they will defend their sovereignty by unleashing the fierce mountain fighters, the Peshmarga, against the invading Turks,
* Turkey, a long-standing member of NATO and a nation on the verge of acceptance into the EU will find itself embroiled in both an internal civil war and an all-out war in northern Iraq,
* Not wanting to kill either Turks or Kurds, US troops will have no choice but to simply get the hell out of the way,
* Meanwhile the Shiites now in charge in Baghdad would view the chaos just north of them as an opportunity to recover the rich oil fields the Kurds had laid claim to around Kirkuk,
* Then there's Iran. Like the Turks, Iran shares a troublesome border with the Kurds of northern Iraq. And, like the Turks, the Iranians have their own, often rebellious Kurds. As supporters of the Shiite leaders in Baghdad, the Iranians would see a Kurdish/Turkish conflict as nothing short of a gift from Allah. Iranians would benefit in many ways. They could further ingratiate themselves to their Shiite cousins in Iraq by launching cross-border attacks thus squeezing the Kurds from two sides. While so occupied fighting Turks to their west and Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops on their eastern border, US-trained and equipped Iraqi troops would move up from the south and reclaim their oil-rich northern territory. The Iranians would also take this opportunity to teach the Kurds a lesson they hope they will not soon forget.
If such a scenario plays out it would create an entirely new pecking order in the region, one not at all to the liking of the US. Bush's unseating of Saddam has already raised Iran's influence in the region. After a Turkish, Iranian, Iraq joint war against the Kurds an entirely new set of alliances would form. The Turks, Iranians and Shiite rulers in Baghdad would have found common purpose in subjugating separatist Kurds by killing as many Kurdish nationalists as possible -- on both sides of their joint borders -- hopefully driving a stake once and for all through the heart of Kurdish nationalist ambitions.
But the biggest winner would be Iran, which would point to the outcome as proof positive that Iran is key player in the region, not the US -- a fact that will be all too obvious since the US would have not lifted a finger to save the out number Kurds -- once again.
At that point we will have nothing left to do but look toward Washington and shout out a hearty, "Heck of a job, Georgie."