Three car bombs in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — There are reports of a mortar attack and two large car bombs at the Sheraton Hotel, home of Fox News and, next door in the Palestine, the Associated Press. There has been a third car bomb attack on the al-Sadeer Hotel up the road from me.
[UPDATE 10/24/05 6:03:43 PM: Now it appears it's three car bombs at the Palestine/Sheraton compound instead of mortars... No attack on al-Sadeer as near as I can tell. CNN's footage is chilling; two smaller explosions in front of AP cameras on the Palestine Hotel, and then a third huge explosion. As you watch, you can see a tanker truck cement mixer enter the compound before exploding in a massive cloud of fire, dust and smoke.
[This means they knew where the cameras are. They know how to get into the compound. And there's a good chance the first two explosions were designed to get journalists' attention, draw them to the windows and then explode the third one.
[No good word on casulaties yet. Nothing reliable.]
Things are confusing right now and we’re unsure what has happened, but that’s the latest. The blasts rattled my windows and I’m three or so kilometers away.

Welcome to Kurdistan

ImageWelcome to Kurdistan.jpg

WHAT WAS HAPPENING: I had this picture taken as I stood on the shores of the Tigris after we had just crossed from Syria into northern Iraq. Downstream, about 2 km, I could see a tower from the Iraqi base that commands the area. The Kurds told me that the Iraqis sometimes snipe at the families that use the crossing. (About 150 people cross a day, making it one of the more busy transit points between Syria and Iraq.)

U.S. to pay Russia $10 billion for Iraq backing

Careful readers will remember that I said that Russia was dragging its feet at the United Nations on America’s “kick Saddam’s ass” resolution because it was hoping for some guarantee that the $8 billion that Iraq owes Russia would be paid. Well, here is the reassurance. In response to taken questions, a State department spokesperson said that Russia could be compensated for more than $10 billion if they stopped their nuclear cooperation with Iran and allowed their country to become a nuclear waste dump.

One example is the potential transfer to Russia for storage of spent reactor fuel currently held by third countries, much of which requires US approval for such transfer because the US originally supplied the fresh fuel to those countries. If the Russians end their sensitive cooperation with Iran, we have indicated we would be prepared to favorably consider such transfers, an arrangement potentially worth over $10 billion to Moscow.

This kind of deal will lead Russia to ultimately support the United States against Iraq.
Also, some other news that hasn’t been widely reported here in the States: an attempted coup in Qatar! Who knew about this? Anyone? Anyone? Seems that American troops helped put down a coup attempt against Sheikh Hamad Bin Khaleifah al-Thani on Oct. 12. High ranking Qatari army officers were arrested and suspicion immediately fell on an Islamist organization and Pakistani and Yemini army recruits with alleged ties to Al Qa’ida.
The is big. Relations with Saudi Arabia have cooled since Sept. 11, 2001, and Al Udeid Air Base outside of Doha is the best alternative. If Qatar were moved out of America’s camp, the United States would have to rely on Incirlik in Turkey and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to fly sorties against Iraqi targets. And most of the aircraft in the south would have to be carrier based, which would cut down on the number and frequency of sorties. It wouldn’t make an Iraqi operation impossible, but it would make it more difficult, I’ll wager.
What’s most worrisome, from a Pentagon war planner’s point of view, is the potential loss of Qatar, the continued refusal of Saudi Arabia to allow the use of its air bases and troubling Al Qa’ida attacks in Kuwait. None of these things is crippling individually, but in a worst-case scenario, America’s entire southern front in a Second Gulf War could crumble.

Turkey preparing to invade Kurdistan?

Turkey has been making noises that the Iraqi Kurds should not get too hopeful about establishing a quasi-independent entity in the three governates they control in northern Iraq. Now, it looks like Turkey is ready to back up their words with force. (At least they’re consistent.) However, there is an election coming up in Turkey, so the possibility that this is all fodder for domestic constituencies cannot be ruled out.
On the they-really-mean-it side of the equation, ArabicNews.com is reporting that Turkish deputy prime minister Doulat Bahjali said that his country must reconsider its stance regarding northern Iraq. Since 1991 when it got dragged into Operation Provide Comfort (the allied establishment of the northern no-fly zone to protect Kurdish refugees from the 1990-91 Gulf War,) Turky has gone back and forth in its relations with the PUK and KDP. At times the relationship was warm enough that Barzani and Talabani, the leaders of the respective parties, traveled under Turkish diplomatic passports.
That has apparently ended with finality after the Kurdistan Regional Government convened its parliament in October and introduced a proposal for a federal republic of Iraq with a Kurdish entity in the north and with Kirkuk as its capital. Kirkuk, rich in oil and history is home to Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and Turkomen, to whose defense Bahjali is leaping.
“The pressures which are imposed on the Turkomen under Saddam Hussein were great and that they are at the meantime exposed to a new threat by the two Kurdish leaders Masoud al-Barazani and Jalal al-Talabani targeting their cities of Mosul, Kirkuk and Arbil,” ArabicNews.com says. (Ed. I changed some spellings of towns in this quote.)
This backs up the it’s-all-politics argument, since the Turkomen are a natural ally of Bahjali’s National Movement Party, and bashing the Kurds is always a surefire way to rally the nationalist faithful. However, Turkish defense minister Sbah Eddin Oglo said Oct. 14 that Turkey intends to establish ‘a security belt’ in northern Iraq and that intelligence agencies have reported that Turkey has increased its troop strength in Iraqi Kurdistan from 4,000 to 10,000 troops.
All of this must be driving the United States crazy. The last thing it needs is a Kurdish-Turkish dispute in northern Iraq just when it’s trying to get its ducks in a row should shooting start. And this is exactly the kind of chaos various pundits have predicted would happen if Saddam is removed and regional rivalries are allowed to flare. But wasn’t that supposed to happen after a war?
Keep watching the Turks. They hold the key to all of this.

Eastward bound…

This is the second of my posts from Turkey, made after I arrived in Ankara. Prior to my arrival, I met with Turan Ceylan, the manager of the Inter-Continental Hotel in Istanbul. He’s a Kurdish success story, one of many in Istanbul where many Kurds have settled after the PKK troubles in the southeast during the 1980s and 1990s. I didn’t get much to get out of the interview, except that he is pro-EU (he’s a businessman) and he believes that discrimination against Kurds is blown way out of proportion by Western press (which is easy for him to say; he comes from a rich family that runs one of the largest construction firms in Turkey.)

This was an attitude I discovered among many middle-class Istanbul residents. Aydin Kudu, my original fixer before he suffered a hip injury, had me over for dinner and during the post-prandial tea, he and Raia, his girlfriend and sometimes partner-guide, said the same thing: There is no discrimination in Turkey; Kurds can do whatever they like, as long as they don’t break any laws.

On one level, they have a point. At least one president of Turkey, Turgut Ozal, has claimed Kurdish ancestry and Istanbul has seen a number of Kurds other than Ceylan rise to success in the businessworld. But there is a great deal of unknown truth in the statement that “Kurds can do whatever they like, as long as they don’t break any laws.” But until recently, it was illegal to be Kurdish. It was illegal to teach or sing in Kurdish. Yes, Kurds could succeed in Turkey, but only if they assimilated and acted Turkish. And even then, if someone’s ID card listed them as hailing from the southeast, they would often be greeted with suspicion and had a harder time finding jobs in the more cosmopolitan western part of the country.

At any rate, this gave me much to think about. So after a couple of days, I took a bus from Taksim in Istanbul where Aykut Uzun, my fixer, met me. After five hours on the road in Turkey, I was glad to see him.

Continue reading

Ecevit: Kurds dragging Turkey into war

Wow. I posted the proposed Kurdish and Iraqi constitutions last night—and my thoughts that the Kurds are asking for trouble—and wouldn’t you know it? Today, the Guardian runs this. It’s more of that growling that I mentioned in my previous post, but what’s most alarming about this is Turkey’s charges that the United States is directing the Kurds: “It is beyond encouragement, (Washington) is directing them,” Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told the Turkish paper Milliyet. “We will talk to the United States.”
If the United States is directing the PUK and the KDP, that would amount to a stunning reversal against Turkey, one of our most loyal allies in the region. I don’t think that we are, frankly, and these comments are likely playing to Ecevit’s nationalist base of support, which often views the U.S. with suspicion. (They still harbor resentments over Cyprus form 1964 and 1974.)
The United States needs Turkey more than it needs the Kurds, sadly, as the Kurds have only about 80,000 lightly armed peshmergas while the Turks have tanks and F-16s (bought from the United States, of course.) They’re also a NATO ally and Incirlik is a necessary base for running sorties in the northern no-fly zone.
But beyond that Turkey is valuable to the United States in that it provides a “good example” of democracy and Islam, serving as an effective ideological counterweight to Iran. It also has close ties to the Turkish-speaking peoples of central Asia and their energy reserves.
This is why the United States has been such a proponent of Turkey’s ascension to the European Union. America’s support is a complex web of self-interest (keeping a strong, democratic Muslim nation tied to the West) and pay-back (see military alliance above.) It’s also why the Kurds of southeast Turkey both admire and resent the United States. They admire it for its stance on the Turkey-EU issue, and they see membership as the key to economic recovery in that depressed region. They resent America because it was very very supportive of Turkey’s war against the PKK’s terror campaign (which Turkey remembered when Sept. 11, 2001 happened.)
So, again, I’m not sure what would happen if Iraq’s Kurds attain some form of independence. That would almost certainly drive the Turks to war in Iraqi Kurdistan, and what then would the Americans do? This may turn out to be a bigger question than who rules the day after Saddam…