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. However, there is an election coming up in Turkey, so the possibility that this is all fodder for domestic constituencies cannot be ruled out.

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…

Being the second of my dispatches from Turkey, this time from Ankara… The call for prayer is echoing outside my window, I’m staying with Aykut and his wife and I�ve just seen on the news that the UN has failed to reach an agreement with Iraq on the return of arms inspectors and that the New York Times has published a front-page story outlining plans for a three-pronged attack on Iraq. … I’ll be there in a week.

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 business world. 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 “Eastward bound…”

Ecevit: Kurds dragging Turkey into war

So I posted the constitutions last night along with 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,” said Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

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…

Calif. congressman: “I don’t trust this president”

It seems the Democrats were outmaneuvered by Bush & Co. yet again, just as Republicans were constantly outmaneuvered by President Clinton through most of the 1990s.

Woah. This firery deunciation of Bush comes from Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif. (He represents Fremont, home of the largest population of Afghanis in the United States, interestingly enough.) His statement is full of red meat for leftists, calling Bush a lightweight National Guardsman in the 1960s, and questioning his tough-guy cred by quoting columnist Molly Ivins: “For an upper-class white boy, Bush comes on way too hard. At a guess, to make up for being an upper-class white boy.”
I’m not one to take away from Mssr. Stark’s statement. I agree with most of it, in that the people who will pick up the $200 billion (estimated) tab for Gulf War II: The Sequel will likely be people like my grandmother who depends on Medicare, but will see it cut to make way for Bush’s tax cut and war costs. Others likely to pay include those who need unemployment insurance, students who don’t get federal money to go to college and any number of natural Democratic constituencies.
And now that the House and Seanate have passed their respective war resolutions, we have politicians like Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who say things like, “The bottom line is . . . we want to move on.” The impression one gets is that Democrats want to move on to economic issues that play well a month from now, that might give them back the House and cement their hold on the Senate. Understandible, true, but at what cost?
It seems the Democrats were outmaneuvered by Bush & Co. yet again, just as Republicans were constantly outmaneuvered by President Clinton through most of the 1990s. Bush cranked up the war rhetoric from September on, to force an early vote, knowing the Democrats would be forced to either delay the vote, and open themselves up to charges of treason and/or wimpism (the Bush family’s least favorite slur!) or rush the vote and give the president what he wanted in the first place. Of course, this week’s quickie vote on war will come back to haunt the Democrats, when their liberal, anti-war supporters get wooed by the Green Party charging that Democrats and Republicans are but two sides of the same coin. (Nader’s party is active in many close races, potentially threatening Democrats from the left.)
So Mssr. Stark can afford to vote no and denounce Bush on the House floor. He’s in a safe district. The question is, now that he’s got his war on, will Bush’s action leave anywhere safe?

Update on House Vote

The Hastert-Gephardt proposal (H.J.R 114) passed the House today on a 296-113 vote.

The Hastert-Gephardt proposal (H.J.R 114) passed the House today on a 296-113 vote. The Senate also voted 75-25 to limit debate, meaning its vote on the war resolution could come as early as tomorrow. This is disappointing as the Spratt amendment was a common-sense approach to this whole killin’ Iraqis business. (For a glimpse of alternatives, Here’s a PDF that compares the various House and Senate proposals.)
All of this may be moot, however because sources on Capital Hill are saying that Bush doesn’t want war at all! That come Nov. 5, Bush will suddently start talking about how the United Nations is a useful body after all, and that inspectors will be allowed to do their job. I’m told Bush doesn’t want to be looking at an occupied Iraq two years from now when we have guerilla fighting in Baghdad suburbs, a massive drain on the national economy and a stable oil supply only because United States occupation forces keep Kurds, Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs (not to mention Turkomen and Iranians) from each others’ throats. Add to that a daily trickle of body bags as one or two GIs die every couple of days. That wouldn’t be very fun to run on, would it? Especially since Bush avoided the horrors of a long, drawn out guerilla war once before!
This would be a fascinating example of dog-wagging. At least President Clinton actually tossed some cruise missles around when he was accused of doing it to distract the nation from him “doing it.” In Bush’s case, however war with Iraq will have been talked up, the Middle East destabilized, the UN insulted and our reputation trashed with allies—all for short-term election gains. (Well, not all for short-term gains. No doubt there are plenty of true believers who think that Saddam should be blowed up real good, but trying to divine the influence of people like Karl Rove, Dick Cheney et al., is akin to Kremlinology.) A post-election change in rhetoric would prove the influence of “General Rove.”