In Erbil, in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, thousands protested against Turkish plans to move into the region during an American-led invasion of Iraq.
(Â© 2002 Getty Images)
This weekend, the Turkish parliament rejected the United States’ offers of billions of dollars in loans and grants for hosting up to 62,000 troops to be used in a northern front in the upcoming invasion of Iraq. The vote, 264-250-19, was a squeaker — but four shy of the absolute majority needed to pass.
At the time, I said that if the Turkish military stayed out of this political process, it might be a good sign that the world was witnessing the beginning of a more mature Turkish democracy, one that isn’t held hostage to the threat of a military “intervention” by the generals who are leery of irritating the United States.
But disturbing reports from Stratfor (Paid registration req.) indicate there may have been a more ominous reason for the vote. British intelligence, according to Stratfor, believes the vote was engineered by the Justice and Development Party leadership when members were allowed to “vote their conscience.” As it stands, Parliament, rather than the executive branch of the Turkish government, is responsible for rejecting U.S. troops. This allows the Turkish military to ease the pressure from Washington by claiming innocence in the matter — “What can we say, my friend? We are a democracy.” And if U.S. troops are denied the northern route, Turkey will have a free hand when war breaks out.
The strategy is to cause U.S. forces to invade Iraq from the south only — leaving the Kurdish north at Turkey’s mercy in the event of war. If the United States attacks, Turkish forces — claiming to act in the interest of preventing anarchy — would launch their own action against Kurdish areas in the north. Within several days, sources say, the Turks would crush the Kurds; meanwhile, U.S. bombings would weaken Iraqi forces in the north. Once the regime in Baghdad and the army began to weaken, Turkish forces would fall upon Iraqi garrisons — and paint their own actions as proof of Turkey’s alliance with the United States. [From Stratfor]
With U.S. forces tied up in the south and the Kurds pacified, Turkey would move between 250,000 and 300,000 troops to encircle the rich oil-fields of Kirkuk and Mosul, allowing them to then say to the world and to the EU — to which Turkey aspires for membership — that it has prevented America from occupying the entirety of Iraq.
Backing up this hypothesis are media reports from the Turkish press. The Turkish paper Cumhuriyet reported yesterday that Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok “cautioned Prime Minister Abdullah Gul against any adverse developments that could emerge in northern Iraq and threaten Turkey?s national security in the event of a war.” Meeting with Gul on Sunday, Ozkok reportedly told the premier that considering the situation after Parliament?s refusal of the proposal, “urgent measures should be taken in order to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state in the region.” Also, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Yasara Yakis said the Iraqi Kurds’ burning of the Turkish flag in protest of a possible Turkish invasion was “a provocation.”
America could be facing a dreadful choice: Intervene in Iraqi Kurdistan and northern Iraq — and gain the oil-fields — by engaging Turkish forces on Iraqi soil or stand down and accept a partial victory?
The thought of NATO allies Turkey and the United States actually coming to blows is almost inconceivable. Most likely, some kind of deal would be worked out, allowing the Turks a significant portion of the oil revenue from the region. But the treatment of the Kurds would be more worrisome.
I’ve been assured by Kurdish friends and sources that if the Turks come into Iraqi Kurdistan, they will have a fight on their hands. The recent demonstrations tend to back that up. But despite my friends’ promises of a “slaughter” and a guerilla campaign, I suspect 250,000 heavily armed Turks with NATO training would be able to quell 70,000 peshmerga light infantry the Kurds currently field. (Let’s give them 150,000 to account for new recruits.) How quickly the Turks would prevail is open to conjecture, however. The last Kurdish war lasted from 1984-1998, and Iraqi Kurdistan is even more mountainous than southeast Turkey.
(Already the Kurds are circling the wagons. The Kurdistan Regional Government announced that that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party would form a Joint Higher Leadership council that would coordinate political, military, administration and foreign and domestic policy. KDP president Massoud Barzani and PUK secretary-general Jalal Talabani will chair the council.)
Additionally, an extended campaign by the Turks in the north would cause the Iranians to move in to protect their interests in the region, too. (The Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakim’s Badr Brigade of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq has already moved in.) Without the Americans to play referee, everything north of Baghdad and Tikrit will fall into bloody civil war.
Now we see why those ships are still idling off the Turkish coast and the United States is hoping to persuade Turkey to allow U.S. troops. A chaotic northern Iraq isn’t in anyone’s interests. But I wonder if any amount of cash would be enough to persuade the Turks, because if their plans do include seizing the northern Iraqi oil-fields (coveted for years,) they won’t need the Americans’ money.
ASIDE:I’ve written several times about Turkey’s plans for Iraqi Kurdistan, including here, here and here. At one point, back in October, I said, “Keep watching the Turks. They hold the key to all of this.” Seems I was right after all…
ASIDE II:By the way, why has the United States and Europe still refused to provide gas masks or protective gear to the Kurds in the case of chemical attacks, since they’ve been attacked with chemical weapons before? Could it be that Turkey has effectively sealed the border, making it extremely difficult to get humanitarian supplies into the region?