Turkish incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan?

OK. This is odd. My new go-to site on Iraq, IraqSlogger.com, is reporting conflicting “reports of a Turkish incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan/Northern Iraq”:http://www.iraqslogger.com/index.php/post/3103 in hot pursuit of PKK fighters.
AP has been reporting that “thousands” of Turkish troops have crossed the border, but various officials are denying it.

Several thousand Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq early Wednesday to chase Kurdish guerrillas who operate from bases there, two “senior security officials” told the AP.

“It is not a major offensive and the number of troops is not in the tens of thousands,” one of the officials, based in southeast Turkey, told The Associated Press by telephone. The officials did not say where the Turkish force was operating in northern Iraq, nor did he say how long they would be there.

The AP has scaled back its estimate, and now says “hundreds” of troops.
DEBKA (grain of salt required) says “50,000 Turkish troops have invaded.”:http://debka.com/headline.php?hid=4284 The Kurds, obviously, are not pleased.

Massoud Barzani, had sent a personal emissary, Safin Dizai, to Ankara with an urgent warning. Turkish tanks would not be allowed to cross into northern Iraq, he said. The Kurdish peshmerga would repel them. “The people of Kurdistan,” said the messenger, “would not stand by as spectators if Turkish tanks and panzers entered Kirkuk.”

Is this true? I can’t tell yet, but I’ve got some emails and calls out to friends in Kurdistan and I’m waiting to hear. Will let you know if I can find out more.
In the meantime, some thoughts on this: If this report is true — a big “if” at this point — it’s a marked escalation in the region, obviously. As with most things in the Middle East, there are many, many threads and few things are so clear-cut as many in the West would imagine them to be. (“If A happens, then B must result.”)
But, with that caveat, if the Turks really have crossed with hundreds of troops or more, I believe it’s a response to the Kurds’ threats of pulling out of Iraq because of the oil law, rather than any pretense of chasing the PKK. It’s also likely tied up somehow with the current dispute between the military and ErdoÄŸan’s soft-Islamist government in Ankara.
But could the US have approved this? If so, the only reason might be to persuade the Kurds to buckle under to Iraq’s new oil law. However, If the US agreed to this, they’re playing with fire. Like the Iranians next door, who think they can carefully stoke the civil war as a means of bogging down the US, the Americans likely believe they can keep the Turks in check and the Kurds from attacking Turkish forces. But I know the peshmerga, and they’re not going to take a few hundred Turkish soldiers in a “security zone” lightly. It will get ugly and out of control quickly.
* If the US didn’t agree to this, it’s a nightmare scenario. Who to ally with? Turkey as a NATO ally fighting terrorism? The Kurds, who are the only real success story in the Iraqi narrative? If the US takes no side and instead diverts forces to the north to stand between the two sides, where will these troops come from? Baghdad? Anbar? What happens when the US troops leave those areas?
* I expect another Kurdish insurgency in Turkey is in the works. We all know how well that worked out last time.
* I don’t think the Turkish government will collapse or a military coup will result. I think instead, the Turkish population will rally around whatever action the Turks take and the government led by ErdoÄŸan will follow the lead and lend its full-throated support.
*UPDATE June 7, 11:03:44 AM +0200 GMT:* Spencer at TPMmuckracker doesn’t buy it, and blames DEBKAfile, which is fair enough. But AP is still sticking to its, er, guns and now characterizes the operation as “hundreds” of Turkish troops in “raids.” Curiouser and curiouser.
So many implications. And so little information.
Also, donations are working again, and covering this place ain’t cheap. Fixers, rented cars, hotel rooms, etc. all cost money and freelancing for newspapers only covers part of it. If you’d like me to keep blogging the developments in Lebanon’s latest crisis, please consider dropping some coin in the donate link below and to the right. Thanks.

Snapshot of journalsts’ dangers in Iraq

One of the “commenters”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2007/05/dmitry_chebotayev_russian_phot.php#comment-211984 in the “post about Dmitry”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2007/05/dmitry_chebotayev_russian_phot.php below wanted to know how many journalists who had died in Iraq were foreign and how many were Iraqi. Well, the Committee to Protect Journalists has just such a list.
Of the 101 journalists killed in Iraq, 79 were Iraqi. The others included 12 Europeans, three from other Arab countries, two from the United States and five from all other countries.
That the vast majority of journalists killed — as well as the “38 media workers”:http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/Iraq/iraq_media_killed.html, which includes translators and the like — are Iraqi is significant. Like the Iraqi civilians, the local journalists there are the ones who are most affected by the violence that permeates their country.
Fourteen journalists died in 2003, the year of the invasion and the trajectory has been mostly pointing up in the number of deaths each year: 24 in 2004, 23 in 2005, 32 in 2006 and now 8 in 2007.
For a capsule account of each journalist who was killed, here are the links:
* “for 2007”:http://www.cpj.org/killed/killed07.html#iraq
* “for 2006”:http://www.cpj.org/killed/killed06.html#iraq
* “for 2005”:http://www.cpj.org/killed/killed_archives/2005_list.html#iraq
* “for 2004”:http://www.cpj.org/killed/killed_archives/2004_list.html#iraq
* “for 2003”:http://www.cpj.org/killed/killed_archives/2003_list.html#iraq
(Note, the links include journalists killed in places other than Iraq as well.)

Dmitry Chebotayev, Russian photographer, killed in Iraq

Dmitry-Chebotayev-AP.jpgIt’s been a fatal weekend for foreign correspondents.
On Sunday, the day the plane carrying Anthony Mitchell of AP was found, Dmitry Chebotayev, a Russian photographer for EPA and Russian Newsweek was killed in Diyala province along with six U.S. soldiers, with whom he was embedded.
As the Committee to Project Journalists said in a statement,

The Committee to Protect Journalists mourns the death on Sunday of Dmitry Chebotayev, the first Russian journalist to be killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Chebotayev, a freelance photographer embedded with U.S. forces, was killed along with six American soldiers when a roadside bomb struck a U.S. military vehicle in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad.
Chebotayev was on assignment for the Russian edition of Newsweek magazine, reporting on the efforts of U.S. forces to control roads in Diyala province, Leonid Parfyonov, editor of the magazine’s Russian edition, told CPJ. Chebotayev had been in Iraq for more than two months.

Chebotayev, 29, had freelanced for several news agencies, including the German-based European Pressphoto Agency and the independent Moscow daily Kommersant. A sampling of his photos can be viewed on his Lightstalkers profile page. Lightstalkers is an online network of photographers and other visual journalists that serves as a directory, database, and resource center.
At least 101 journalists and 38 media support staffers have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, making Iraq the deadliest conflict for the press in CPJ’s 26-year history. Seven embedded journalists have been killed since the war began.

He last logged into Lightstalkers five days ago. His location is listed as Baqoubah, Iraq, and his travel log shows that he worked in Russia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Syria, Chechnya and Iraq. My friend Bill Putnam, another photographer, offered advice to him regarding embedding in Iraq. It’s another sad day for journalists in the tight-knit world of Middle East coverage, after the loss of Anthony on Saturday.
Six soldiers and a journalist killed in one blast makes me suspect it was an awfully big IED that hit a Bradley fighting vehicle, rather than a humvee, which holds five guys, tops. I’m just speculating, though.
I hope I don’t have to do any more posts like this. Rest in peace, Dmitry and Anthony. You will be missed.

Moral Shame and Humiliation

George Packer has another great and heartbreaking story out in this week’s _New Yorker_. It’s about the Iraqi translators and workers who signed up for the American rebuilding project in Iraq but who are now being thrown to the wolves by the United States. I mentioned this “a couple of posts back”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2007/03/language_in_iraq_on_the_radar.php, but George’s “full story is worth a full and thoughtful read”:http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/03/26/070326fa_fact_packer?printable=true.
As he puts it:

Between October, 2005, and September, 2006, the United States admitted two hundred and two Iraqis as refugees, most of them from the years under Saddam. Last year, the Bush Administration increased the allotment to five hundred. By the end of 2006, there were almost two million Iraqis living as refugees outside their country — most of them in Syria and Jordan. American policy held that these Iraqis were not refugees, that they would go back to their country as soon as it was stabilized. The U.S. Embassies in Damascus and Amman continued to turn down almost all visa applications from Iraqis. So the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world remained hidden, receiving little attention other than in a few reports from organizations like Human Rights Watch and Refugees International.

Of course, the reason the Iraqis are being treated like this is because the Bush administration refuses to admit that Iraq isn’t a abattoir of its making. And there is insult to the injury the Iraqis are facing. At least one Iraqi employee of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was refused entry to the U.S. because he had paid a ransom to kidnappers, violating the “material support” clause of the Patriot Act.
One of the heroes of the story is a USAID worker named Kirk Johnson, who grew disillusioned with life in the Green Zone and asked to be transferred to Fallujah. I think I met Johnson when “I was in Fallujah in Nov. 2005”:http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1126748,00.html, but I’m not sure. Regardless, he has been a driving force in getting the U.S. to open its doors more to Iraqi refugees, with the highest priority given to those who worked for the U.S. and are now in the most danger.
“This is the brink right now, where our partners over there are running for their lives,” he said to George. “I defy anyone to give me the counter-argument for why we shouldn’t let these people in.” He then quoted something President Gerald Ford once said regarding his decision to admit a hundred and thirty thousand Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon: “To do less would have added moral shame to humiliation.”

Failure to Communicate

A former translator in Iraq, Dustin Langan, wrote me today to tip me off about an interesting read in Radar, about the lack of good translators in Iraq. He was recruited by MZM Inc., one of the companies connected with the “Duke” Cunningham corruption scandal, to work in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, and he has some good points to make.

One that is personally dear to me is the treatment of the Iraqi translators. As he says:

[Iraqi translators] have been treated terribly. They’ve been killed. They have not been protected. They have not received visas or anything. They’re being killed at very high rates. The result is many people now in Iraq think if you work with the coalition you’re an idiot, because you’re working with someone who doesn’t care about you, and then you’re killed.

I’ve known a few ‘terps, as they’re called, and my friend George Packer has made this one of his major concerns. It should be one that makes every feeling American — whether you supported the war or not — ashamed at how we’re treating these people.

Anyway, it’s a good interview. Thanks for the tip, Dustin!