Three-way ties; Kurds in middle of U.S.-Turkey relations

The Washington Times


It happened again. Last Wednesday the Associated Press reported that several thousand Turkish troops had crossed into Northern Iraq to chase the PKK – separatist Kurdish terrorists who operate from bases there. The story turned out to be untrue.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said during his daily briefing that “our ambassador in Ankara, Ross Wilson, went in [and] talked to the Turkish General Staff and they said the reports weren’t accurate.” It is, however, intriguing that Mr. Wilson had to go to the Turkish General Staff to check the accuracy of the reports. If there had been such a significant move along the Turkish-Iraqi border, there should at least be satellite pictures available to the U.S. military. Taking the U.S. presence in Iraq into consideration, confirming such an allegation should not have required any complicated intelligence work.
Yet Mr. Wilson still visited the general staff. Assuming he did not go there without knowing whether the Turkish military had mounted the offensive into Northern Iraq, it’s important to focus on the message his visit makes. For several months, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been saying that on one hand, the military works for him, but on the other, the military would have to decide if any cross-border operation is needed to defeat the PKK terrorism. Clearly, Mr. Wilson got the message, bypassed the prime minister and went directly to the military as Mr. Erdogan publicly passed the buck to the generals as final say on such an operation.
So can the Turkish government claim any role in influencing the country’s most important piece of foreign policy? There’s an impression that the A.K. Party is swinging in the wind on this issue. Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the Turkish military is no street gang; therefore it needs an order to act. While the Turkish government and the military continue searching who has the authority to decide, Turkey’s deterrent capabilities come under question; the image it paints is, indeed, quite a weakened state.
What’s more, Turkey will gain no benefit from a cross-border operation today. When Gen. Buyukanit visited Washington in February, he said he wouldn’t agree to any military operation that would have only a symbolic impact. Today, Turkey may decide to carry out a cross-border operation, but it would be only symbolic. Turkey can’t invade Northern Iraq and there is a limited area in which it can launch an offensive against the PKK terrorists across the border. If there are any PKK terrorists still remaining in that targeted area, they are surely not worth such a military operation and the international pressure. As one Turkish military official put it, it would be better for Turkey to persuade the United States to carry unprecedented point attacks.
In Turkey, under the circumstances, the military’s deterrence policy seems aimed at the United States rather than the PKK or the Iraqi Kurdish leadership. The United States knows that it is not yet time for Turkey to become involved in the Iraqi theater. A senior U.S. official – solely authorized to talk on the PKK related matters – said if Turkey invades Northern Iraq, its territorial integrity will be jeopardized. The Turkish military may agree with him. The question is who exactly provoked the recent terrorist acts on Turkey. In the last several weeks, Gen. Buyukanit expressed his concern over the states that directly or indirectly help PKK terrorism. With that in mind, the Turkish military perceives the PKK as a secondary threat.
Many Turks perceive the U.S. motive in the region to be the weakening of nation states through highlighting ethnic and sectarian differences among people. They understand that the United States does not care about the PKK. But it does care about the Kurds, and it does not want to disappoint them. Both Iraqi Kurdish leaders – Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani – said they would not engage the PKK. Last week, Turkey proposed to the U.N. Security Council the creation of a cordon-sanitaire on the Iraqi side of the border to prevent PKK attacks. This week, it is expected that Iraq will go to the United Nations Security Council against Turkey. And that will certainly put Washington on the hot seat.
The thing is, the key to this matter is hidden in the Iranian issue. Until Washington decides whether or how it will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, there will be no clear action against the PKK. So far, Washington seems intent on using the Kurds to create unrest in Iran and Syria. Evidently, the United States may not want to hurt Turkey, but it may do it out of necessity.
But if this is the plan to weaken the Iranian regime, it is doomed. The Kurdish area will not remain stable and wealthy if this scenario goes ahead. There are, in fact, more complicated forces in play in the region right now than anyone can claim to control. Turkey’s hands are tied at this moment. But if deterrence works – not targeted against PKK militants but at the United States – then the United States will aid the leadership, and that will make all the difference.
Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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