There are some places where the hallowed forms of research – sliding into a bar and asking people what they think – is not on, and Turkey is one of those places; at least as far as ‘the bears’ are concerned. The bears? Read Kurds.

People who want to talk about Kurdish politics in public space usually use some sort of code word for the K problem because, well it’s not that it’s illegal or anything, but because paranoia is just other people’s word for your caution.

That’s all the more so this week as the government starts to make explicit noises about an invasion of Iraq, with foreign minister (and presidential candidate designate) Abdullah Gul announcing that the country has detailed plans for an invasion.

In response, Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq, has vowed that his de facto country will defend itself if attacked.

Effectively that would make the thousands of PKK fighters in the northern mountains on the Turkish border into the official Kurdish army, in the same way that Israel’s botched invasion of Lebanon got much of the country – Christians included – behind Hizbullah.

To a degree, some of Gul’s rhetoric is for local consumption – the ruling AKP party is being hit from the nationalist right for being soft on terror, acquiescing to the US etc. In the lead-up to the July election, proving your Turkishness has become the main game in town.

Perhaps more worrying for the US and the Kurds is that the army is making explicit noises too, with Chief of the General Staff Yasar Buyukanit explicitly saying that a major cross-border operation is required.

This is obviously more than a bit of throat-clearing – the army regards itself as a guardian of the Ataturk vision of a unified Turkish republic, and may not stand by if it feels that politicking is allowing the PKK to rebuild.

If Turkey did invade, how far in would it go? Buyukanit has said that not just the PKK but its supporters – ie the Kurdish government – must be smashed. Would Turkey push all the way through to Kirkuk on the Kurdish-Sunni border? That would oblige the US to either withdraw from the South side of that area or face the prospect of accidental engagement with Turkish troops.

All a nightmare for the US, but gold for the AKP at the ballot box.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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