Iraq could not get much bloodier, but it could be about to get a lot more interesting, as Turkey may be only weeks away from a major incursion across the northern border.
As guerrillas from the PKK use the mountains of northern Iraq to launch attacks on Turkish military outposts – seven Turkish soldiers were killed in a recent ram-raid – Turkey’s UN representative, Baki Ilkin, will be presenting a dossier to Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon alleging mass traffic of explosives and guns across the border, with no serious attempt to prevent this flow on the other side.
Turkey is arguing that it is entitled to cross the border on the grounds that there is no effective state authority to curb such attacks. In fact, it has already begun to soften things up for this, with Turkish artillery shelling the Iraqi area of Haji Umran, where PKK have been using caves as a base. This has raised the ire of Iraq’s (p)resident Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd who has made it clear in no uncertain terms that he will not acquiesce to a Turkish incursion, surgical or otherwise.
Turkey has to weigh up the big “con” of military incursion – pissing off the US – with the possibility that up to 4000 PKK fighters are reorganising over the border. The PKK called a cease-fire in its war against the Kurdish state when its leader Ocalan was captured about a decade ago. He is now imprisoned for life on a Turkish island, and directed the PKK to adopt a political rather than military strategy. The prospect of an independent Kurdistan may have made a resumption of military action simply too tempting.
However, the issue is complicated by the fact that Iraqi Kurdistan is under pressure, with the collapse of the Kirkuk region. Nominally in Kurdistan, but with significant Turkmen and Sunni Arab populations, it’s also on top of a lot of the oil. The US is clinging hard to the Kurds, since they’re the only people who aren’t trying to kill Americans.
But that means turning a blind eye to the PKK, yet another example of the manifold hypocrisy of the war – as the PKK are a ruthless outfit, who can be as lethal to dissenting Kurds as they can to Turkish soldiers. They didn’t like Saddam much, but they shared with him a fondness for Stalin, uniformly adopting the moustache as tribute.
Some suggest that the US believes that Turkey wouldn’t dare make a major incursion. But that seems unlikely – I mean you could only think that if you knew nothing of Turkey’s history, its fears, identity etc, you’d have to have deliberately ignored even the most basic inform-