Trip update

The gear is acquired! Sat-phone will be coming tomorrow and new laptop should be coming Monday or Tuesday. GPS receiver is in hand, and my old trusty digital camera is waiting to ship out.
I’ll be getting a ticket to Istanbul next week, perhaps as soon as Wednesday. From there, I’ll meet up with a friend in Ankara and we’ll head to the Syrian border. After that, Iraqi Kurdistan. I hope to be in country by next weekend.
I was hoping for $10,000 at a minimum, but the big dose of funding I was hoping for from a major university has not come through, and I don’t think I can wait anymore. So I’m going to cut the trip a little short (probably two weeks in Iraq as opposed to a month) and go with what I’ve got.
Donations are still most welcome, of course! Every little bit helps, and I really, really appreciate everyone’s support. If people want to keep donating, I can still access the funds while in Turkey. After that, however, I’ll be using the cash reserves.
By the time I get there, Iraqi Kurdistan could be Turkish-occupied, a humanitarian disaster or a cheering land of happy Kurds. We’ll see. It’s a hideously complicated place, and it will be a good litmus test for America’s intentions.

Turks on the march

The Turks look like they’re on the move into Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Kurds are worried.

Well, this is just great. Reuters is reporting that Turkish foreign minister (and previous prime minister) Abdullah Gul said that Turkish troops will soon be moving into Iraqi Kurdistan “within the next few hours.” [BBC]
Jonny Dymond of BBC says Turkey has up to 10,000 troops are sitting on the border waiting to move into Iraqi Kurdistan.
[UPDATE 6:57 p.m. EST: BBC is reporting that Turks have already crossed the borders.]
This is slap to the United States, which has “cautioned” the Turks not to move into the region, but the negotiations between Turkey and the United States possibly grew so bitter that Turkey feels it now doesn’t trust the United States to watch out for its interests in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Qubad Jalal Talabani, the deputy representative of the PUK in Washington, appeared on BBC to explain his party’s viewpoint.
“It is very worrying for my people,” he said. “We believe that Turkish intervention in Iraqi Kurdistan is a recipe for disaster.”
He worried about the precedent it might set, and expressed concern that Iran or Syria might also decide to move troops into the region to protect their own interests. (Syria and Iran have their own restless Kurdish populations.)
Kurds have faced this threat for some time now, and many Kurds have pledged to fight the Turks. In an email sent to me some days ago from Arbil, Karzan Aziz, a friend of mine, said, “I do believe that Turkey will face problems if [it] invaded Kurdistan,�as I have met so many people [who] all repeat the same thing: ‘As we�have been fighting against Saddam from many decades, we are ready to�fight Turkey some more other decades.'”
Turkey says its goal is to prevent an influx of refugees and “terrorist activities,” according to Gul.
[ASIDE: BBC also is reporting that Turkey has finally agreed to open up its airspace. Since this has flipped back and forth all day, I’ll believe this when F-16s fly over Incirlik.]
But Talabani said this is not needed. “The displacement of the population at the moment is not heading toward the mountainous borders,” he said. “They’re dispersing among their families in the nearby towns and villages.”
“The Kurdish people are actually concerned that the Turkish military intervention is not to prevent an influx of refugees into Turkey, but it is in effect an attempt to strangle Kurdish aspirations,” he added.
Many Kurds feel this is the first step toward Turkish attempts to annex territory. (It has long coveted the oil-fields around Kirkuk and Mosul.)
“We understand the allied forces will probably try to leave our region as quickly as possibly,” Talabani said. “But I’m not sure the same can be said for our neighbors.”

300 cruise missiles used in S&A strategy

Pentagon says 300 cruise missiles used in attacks on B’dad, Kirkuk and Mosul. A dozen missiles have hit Saddam Hussein’s main residential palace. The launching of S&A may be an attempt to suppress the Republican Guard in Baghdad so coup plotters may take controll. Alternately, it may mean any coup talks may have broken down and this campaign is an incentive. [Stratfor]
Also, attacks by Kurds on Iraqi-Iranian border are an attempt to suppress Ansar al-Islam.

Here come the Turks?

Northern front still on hold and Umm Qasr falls. But it’s still too early to tell how smoothly this will go.

Thursday’s vote in the Turkish Parliament to allow U.S. planes access to Turkey’s airspace is on hold in the face of U.S. opposition to Turkey sending troops into Iraqi Kurdistan. [CNN] So, still no northern front.
And listening to CNN, MSNBC et al. would lead one to believe that victory is at hand… That may be so but Kos has a good run-down on troubling reports from Reuters that things are not going as smoothly as the networks and 24-hour news channels might lead people to believe.
The toughest battles are yet to come. Stratfor lists the bridges across the Euphrates and the city of Basra as the real tests of Iraqi resistance. If the Iraqis don’t attempt to blow the bridge at al-Nasiriyah or offer only token resistance in Basra, “then the will of the Iraqi forces to fight has indeed collapsed.” [Stratfor] It is, as yet, too early to tell if that is the case.
Umm Qasr is still not 100 percent in the control of the British [Reuters], but Ha’aretz and AP are reporting that U.S. marines will soon be in control.
[UPDATE: 12:26 PM EST, AP reports that U.S. Marines of the 15th MEU, under British command, have taken Umm Qasr. Control allows access to a port for mat�riel and humanitarian supplies.]
At 1734 GMT, Al Jazeera reported bombings in the northern oil city of Mosul.
At 1730 GMT, another Marine from the 1st MEU was KIA, with another injured, U.S. defense officials confirmed. The Marines took fire during an operation near Rumaila.
It seems “A-Day,” the start of “shock and awe” is beginning. And just as a side comment, I was listening to NPR this morning and the announcers sounds almost disappointed that they had not seen the “shock and awe” campaign yet. Perhaps I’m just being snippy, though.
If this is the beginning of shock and awe, it means the Pentagon has given up on the smaller hits designed to sow confusion in the Iraqi leadership and that the full scale bombardment has begun. The Pentagon was likely hoping to avoid this by punching hard but backing off, and seeing if they could either get the Iraqis to topple Saddam in a matter of days or they were trying to smoke out the leadership.
Sat-phone and rugged laptop en route. Will depart for Ankara next week, probably Wednesday or Thursday. Will try to hook up with other photographer who, like me, is looking to get into Iraqi Kurdistan. Let’s hope all goes well…