Friday, October 19, 2007

Who's bluffing on the Turkish-Iraqi border?

By Sami Moubayed
Asia Times

"......The Americans have the ears of Iraqi Kurdish leaders Masoud al-Barazani and President Jalal Talibani, who in turn protect, shelter, and assist the PKK. Had the US been serious about wanting to help the Turks, it could have maintained stronger security on the border. It could have arrested Kurdish leaders calling for violence against Turkey - or at least, placed them under house arrest to send a symbolic message to Ankara. They did none of the above.

Before matters escalated, the Turks called on al-Maliki to find a solution to the PKK. At the time, Maliki was facing a domestic crisis due to the walk-out of Sunni and Shi'ite parties (the Iraqi Accordance Front and Sadrists) from his government. He needed Kurdish support to maintain his shaky coalition. As a result, he snubbed the Turks and cuddled up to both Barazani and Talbani. He traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan, met with Barazani, and promised that Article 140, which calls for a referendum to decide on the future of Kirkuk, is "obligatory".

Article 104 had aroused a storm of controversy. The Kurds support it, claiming that Kirkuk is Kurdish and that its Kurdish population was driven out by Saddam Hussein. Others, however, strongly oppose giving oil-rich Kirkuk to the Kurds. By voicing his position on the subject (after having orchestrated a demographic restructuring of the city) Maliki placed himself at odds with the Turks and Arab Sunni states surrounding Iraq, all of which abhor the idea of Kurdish separatism.

The more the Kurds get carrots in Iraq, the more this will inspire their brothers in neighboring Turkey, Syria, and Iran to demand similar treatment. That explains why, speaking from Ankara, Syria's President al-Assad strongly supported Erdogan's measures as "self-defense". Assad noted, "We support the decisions the Turkish government has put on its agenda against terrorism and terrorist activities," noting that "We see this as Turkey's legitimate right."

The Iraqis seemingly don't want war, but every action they are taking, thanks to al-Maliki, is leading towards war with Turkey. Many believe that the Turks also don't want war and are not serious in their military escalation. Many believe that the Turks are bluffing. That is incorrect, although the Turks certainly do not want war for the mere sake of war; they want self-defense. There is a conviction in the Turkish political establishment that only war will bring the PKK to heel and the Turks would do anything - even cross the world's only superpower - if that is what is needed to protect their own national security. "

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