Turkey and Iraqi Kurds headed for confrontation

Northern Iraq is a powederkeg waiting to explode, and the Kurds and Turks seem set on a confrontation.

In an item from ArabicNews.com, “Turkish officials” tell the daily newspaper Bousta that there will be no Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

In a telephone call with the Turkish daily Bousta, the Turkish officials indicated in its Saturday’s issue that Washington gave guarantees to Ankara that a (Kurdish) state will not be established, stressing that it is impossible that the US will sacrifice its good relations with Turkey for the sake of founding an independent Kurdish state in the after- Saddam phase.

This is almost assuredly true, since the United States needs Turkey a lot more than it needs the Kurds, and it’s been telling the Kuwaitis not to worry, that there will be no democracy in a post-Saddam Iraq.
And yet the Kurds, bless them, persist in moving forward with their constitution, a charter that is almost guaranteed to get them invaded by Turkey. A meeting of 35 Kurdish parties, called for by the chairman of the Kurdistani Democratic Socialist Party, Muhammad Haji Mahmoud, convened yesterday in the town of Kuwisinjaq. While all Kurdish parties, including the Islamist parties such as Islamic Movement and Islamic Union, are expected to attend, the Turkomen parties weren’t invited, an ominous omission.
For not only will the Turks (and Syrians and Iranians) look upon Kurdish jostling for federalism in Iraq with alarm, Turkey could use the exclusion of the Turkomen as an excuse to intervene, especially since Ankara has recently been referring to Kirkuk, the proposed capital of a Kurdish entity in the north, as a “Turkomen” city. (Which isn’t true at all. The Kurds have a longer claim to it than the Turkomen.)
Ala Talabani, a spokesperson for the PUK in Suleimanya, emailed me today and told me that the Kurds are doing everything they can to reassure Turkey. “Turkey, they are nervous, but parties here are doing theire best to make them understand that we are not looking for Independency; we will remain a part of Iraq,” she wrote. [Ed. I cleaned up her English a little.] “Remember that they have an election (coming up.) After that, their position will be clear.”
But what that position may be, no one knows. The ruling coalition of ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit will almost assuredly be removed come Nov. 3, and a party with roots in political Islam, Justice and Development, is polling at 30 percent, far ahead of other parties. This means Turkey could be looking at a Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, a top Justice and Development party leader. Remember, in 1997 the Turkish military staged a “soft coup” to remove an Islamist ruling coalition when it strayed too far from the embrace of the West and chummied up with Iran and Libya.
I think a Justice and Development-led government would be even more hardline on the question of the Kurds. Any civilian government in Turkey must kowtow to the military establishment, which views both political Islam and Kurdish separatism with equal contempt. In order to protect its position, Justice and Devlopment won’t do anything to piss off the generals in Ankara. Also, the Islamists, despite their rhetoric, are cool to the idea of the European Union and its demands that Turkey temper its persecution of its ethnic minorities. Since the EU snubbed Turkey in its latest round of talks, an Islamist-led Turkey would have little reason to accommodate Europe — or the Kurds.
So the stage is set for chaos in northern Iraq, apres Saddam. And the only people who will be able to bring the parties to heel will be the United States. The question is, will it?