Backs Turkish Military
Attacks On Northern Iraq
the backing and assistance of the Bush administration, the Turkish military
has launched two attacks in the past three days on Kurdish villages
in northern Iraq. While targetted against the guerrilla forces of the
separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the operations are threatening
to provoke a broader conflict involving Turkey and Iraq.
cross-border attack, the largest since 2003, took place in the early
hours of Sunday. Up to 50 fighter jets bombed targets up to 100 kilometres
inside Iraq—in the Zap, Avashin and Hakurk regions and in the
rugged Qandil mountains. The army followed up the air strikes, which
lasted three hours, with a series of artillery barrages on border villages.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the raids as a “success”,
warning that “our struggle [against the PKK] will continue inside
and outside Turkey”.
operation involving some 300 troops took place yesterday. Ankara claimed
that the operation was to pursue PKK guerrillas sighted near the Iraq-Turkish
border. A military official told the media that there had been no reports
of any casualties from “a limited clash” and the soldiers
withdrew later in the day.
are available of the impact of the air attacks. According to the New
York Times, Hassan Ibrahim, a local mayor, reported that eight villages
in the Qandil region had been hit. A woman was killed in Asteawkan,
two were wounded in Leawzhea and six houses destroyed. In the village
of Qalatuqa near the border, locals told Agence France Presse that dozens
of buildings, including a new school, had been razed. The British-based
Times reported that more than 1,800 people were forced to flee their
homes. The PKK claimed that seven people had been killed in the bombing
and threatened to retaliate.
The air raids
provoked angry reactions from the Iraqi government and the autonomous
Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which presides over three northern
Iraqi provinces. The Iraqi parliament issued a statement condemning
the bombing as an “outrageous” violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
Baghdad summoned the Turkish ambassador and demanded an end to the strikes,
declaring they were unacceptable and could seriously harm relations
between the two countries.
Masoud Barzani blamed the US military for the attacks. “The Americans
were responsible because the Iraqi sky is under their full control,”
he told a press conference. Washington denied giving authorisation for
the air strikes but an American official in Ankara acknowledged that
the US had been informed in advance. The Turkish chief-of-staff, General
Yasar Buyukanit, was in no doubt that Washington had given the green
light. “America last night opened Iraqi airspace to us. By opening
Iraqi airspace to us last night America gave its approval to the operation,”
he told the media.
administration not only knew about the planned attack, but provided
intelligence to the Turkish military. The Washington Post yesterday
revealed that the US military has diverted surveillance aircraft and
unmanned drones to northern Iraq and established a centre in Ankara
to share military intelligence with its Turkish counterparts. An American
official said that the US was “essentially handing them their
targets” and leaving it up to the Turkish military to act. “They
said, ‘We want to do something.’ We said ‘Okay, it’s
your decision,” the official told the newspaper on Monday.
generals—including General David Petraeus, the top US commander
in Iraq, General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, and General John Craddock, head of the US European Command—have
been in talks with Turkey about anti-PKK operations since last month.
Washington has also put pressure on the Iraqi government and the KRG
to shut PKK offices in northern Iraq and to take steps to isolate areas
in which the PKK is based.
The US actions
followed a meeting in early November between President Bush and Turkish
Prime Minister Erdogan, in which Bush promised to provide American intelligence
if Turkey restricted its operations against the PKK inside northern
Iraq. The Turkish military had already massed 100,000 troops backed
by tanks, artillery and warplanes on the border with Iraq. Amid weeks
of anti-Kurdish agitation by right-wing nationalists, the Turkish parliament
voted in October to formally approve cross-border incursions.
air raids were the first major Turkish attack on targets inside Iraq.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who made an unannounced visit
to Iraq yesterday, only referred to the Turkish operation indirectly,
saying: “No one should do anything that threatens to destabilise
the north [of the country].”
support for the Turkish military operations, however, is having a profoundly
destabilising effect. KRG President Barzani responded to the latest
Turkish incursion by cancelling a planned meeting with Rice in Baghdad
in protest. “Turkish troops committed an atrocious crime against
innocent civilians and violated Iraqi sovereignty,” he said. The
two Kurdish nationalist parties—Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic
Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)—are acutely
sensitive to any shift in Washington. Having fully backed the illegal
US invasion of Iraq, the KDP and PUK expected ongoing US support for
the establishment of their own small political and business empire in
the northern Kurdish enclave.
protests reflect far broader anger among Iraq’s Kurdish population.
Magazine editor Nawzad Bolous from the northern city of Irbil told the
Christian Science Monitor: “The feeling on the street is that
we must not just sit back idly while this is taking place. There is
anger towards the US forces. People feel they gave the green light to
the Turks to bomb.” Human rights activist Sarkot Hama also pointed
the finger at the government in Baghdad. “There is a feeling among
a lot of Kurds that the Maliki government is ready to give the Turks
all the help they need to bomb locations in Kurdistan,” he said.
administration’s backing for the Turkish attacks also makes a
mockery of its claims to have created an independent Iraq. While the
US was told in advance of the raids, Turkey did not inform, let alone
consult with, the Iraqi government. No one in Washington told Baghdad
either. The US collusion with Turkey in military attacks on Iraqi territory
is just the latest in a series of steps designed to marginalise the
government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. In recent months,
the US military has put tens of thousands of Sunni militiamen on its
payroll, despite Maliki’s protests that these forces were deeply
hostile to the Shiite fundamentalist parties that underpin his government.
determination to strengthen relations with Turkey, if need be at the
expense of its Kurdish allies, has another ominous dimension. As it
has intensified its confrontation with Iran, the Bush administration
has been increasingly critical of Ankara’s growing ties with Tehran.
By assisting Turkey in its operations against the PKK, the US is hoping
to further isolate Iran. Significantly, one of the areas of Turkish-Iranian
cooperation has been in coordinating military operations against the
PKK and its sister organisation, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan
(PJAK), which carries out guerrilla attacks inside Iran from bases in
of the Bush administration is underscored by the fact that the US regards
the PKK as a “terrorist organisation” while covertly providing
assistance to PJAK as a means of undermining the Iranian government.
While justifying Turkish attacks on Kurdish villages, the US administration
and media have vigorously condemned Iranian shelling of PJAK hideouts
inside northern Iraq earlier this year. If Iranian warplanes had conducted
the raids on Sunday, there is no doubt that the Bush administration
would have responded in the most bellicose terms.
Baghdad yesterday, US Secretary of State Rice again declared that “the
United States, Iraq and Turkey share a common interest in stopping the
activities of the PKK”. Washington is engaged in a precarious
juggling act—offering political and military support to Turkey,
on the one hand, without completely undermining the position of the
Kurdish nationalist parties, on the other. The KDP and PUK have been
key US allies in shoring up the US occupation in Baghdad and stabilising
the Kurdish north.
has ambitions that go beyond neutralising the PKK. The Turkish military
has already accused the Kurdish Regional Government of sheltering and
assisting the PKK and threatened to deal with KRG President Barzani
in any invasion of northern Iraq. Ankara has been hostile to the establishment
of an autonomous Kurdish region from the outset, viewing it as encouraging
Kurdish separatism in Turkey. Turkey has warned in particular that it
would not tolerate the incorporation of the city of Kirkuk and the surrounding
oil-rich areas into the Kurdish region—a step that could provide
the economic basis for a separate Kurdish state. The KRG, however, is
pressing for a delayed referendum on the issue to proceed.
the Turkey’s cross-border raids, the Bush administration has opened
up a can of worms that could set off another explosive conflict in a
country already ruined by more than four years of war.
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