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    Middle East
     Jun 12, 2007
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Turkey not done with the Kurds
By M K Bhadrakumar

While discussing Russia's military-education system recently, prominent military thinker and former deputy defense minister Vitaly Shlykov said, "We have a completely distorted understanding of military professionalism.

"Professionalism in the armed forces, first and foremost, means a solid liberal-arts education," Shlykov explained. A good soldier must be rooted well in "purely civilian disciplines, foreign

languages and history, as well as tactics".

Shlykov could as well have been describing the role model of the Turkish Pashas. The officer corps of the Turkish armed forces is highly professional by Shlykov's yardstick. That is what keeps the international community guessing about the Turkish Army's intentions toward northern Iraq.

Any decision by the Turkish Army to move into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish terrorists operating out of that region will not be based on security considerations alone. The Pashas know Mesopotamia and its history, Kurds and their violent past, Kurdistan's tangled mountains and Turkey's complicated geopolitics. They will act cautiously.

But they also know first things come first. They know a like-minded government in power in Ankara is a prerequisite. Last Friday, the Turkish General Staff issued an extraordinary statement virtually calling on the people to come out and hold mass rallies over the issue of terrorism in Turkey. It said, "The Turkish Armed Forces expects the Turkish nation to show its mass reflex to resist these terrorist acts."

The statement condemned the critics of "Kemalism", who include core supporters of the pro-Islamic ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). "Turkey has been subjected to a view that its national and unitary structure was outdated. Our nation has to be aware of this dangerous approach. It is evident that the escalating acts of terror are the clear signs of such ideas and the distorted mentalities of those who support these ideas directly or indirectly," the statement said.

The military expects the people to take to the streets, just as they did recently under the banner of "secularism", and demonstrate against the government. A cat-and-mouse game is under way. The military says it is ready to act against the Kurdish terrorists based in northern Iraq. The government says it and the military speak with one mind. But the military says it needs governmental approval for crossing the border into northern Iraq, and the government says such approval will follow a written request from the military.

Meanwhile, Friday's military statement taps into popular opinion. Parliament is in recess, as Turkey prepares for polls on July 22. The government says it has no plans to convene Parliament, while the constitution requires parliamentary approval for any military operations on foreign soil.

The AKP hopes to win a renewed mandate to form the government. The "Kemalist" camp looks insipid and the rightist opposition remains in disarray. Except if nationalist sentiments rise to a crescendo, the AKP's ideology-based platform seems to appeal to the electorate. The military's statement on Friday raises the ante. The AKP cannot jeopardize Western backing by ordering the military to cross into Iraq.

Political exigencies require the AKP to ensure the "Kemalists" do not ride the nationalist wave, especially the huge groundswell of "anti-Americanism". The AKP leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has to reiterate his commitment to fight terrorism, and demand that the US should act against Kurdish terrorism bleeding Turkey. The bottom line seems to be that any major Turkish military operation in Iraq is unlikely before the parliamentary polls. Consolidation of political power in Ankara is the overriding priority of all protagonists at the moment.

However, there is the inherent danger that the force of events on the ground may overtake politicians. There is indeed a new ground situation. A Kurdish terrorist wave is once again sweeping across Turkey, reminiscent of the scale of violence 10 years ago. The Turkish military is taking heavy casualties. Popular feelings are running high all over Anatolia and tremendous anger is building up within the Turkish military.

On the other hand, what can the military do? It could launch "hot pursuit" attacks inside Iraq, which fall short of a full-fledged military operation. But this is already happening. Turkish troop concentration in border areas is a recurring feature every year with the advent of spring when cross-border movement by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants begins. This year too, from April onward, the border region has been declared a special security zone. Turkish artillery has routinely pounded suspected positions of PKK guerrillas inside Iraq, and the air force has been conducting reconnaissance missions. Not infrequently, "hot pursuit" missions are undertaken.

During 1983-98 when PKK terrorism was rampant, the Turkish military conducted cross-border operations inside Iraq about 36 times. Some operations were of a large scale, involving air force and heavy armor. In 1997, troops at corps strength of up to 50,000 crossed the border and went 200 kilometers into Iraqi territory.

But circumstances were different then. Saddam Hussein connived in the muzzling of Kurdish irredentist nationalism. The US was Turkey's staunch North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally. Iraqi Kurdish leaders, who depended on handouts from Ankara, collaborated. And Iraq wasn't the cynosure of attention in world politics - let alone Kurdistan's remote mountains.

Now, circumstances have changed. There is no effective government in Baghdad. Kurdish nationalism is boiling. Iraqi Kurdish leaders oppose any crackdown on their fellow Kurds belonging to the PKK. A de facto Kurdish government is

Continued 1 2 

Turkish threat echoes across Iraq (Jun 5, '07)

Kurds drawn into Iraq's firing line (May 31, '07)

1. Everlasting US pyramids in Iraqi sands 

2. Putin's smart Gabala gambit

3. Why Iran will fight, not compromise

4. Loose tongues foil 'Laos plot'

5. An insurgency beyond the Taliban

(June 8-10)


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