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     Oct 20, 2007
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Who's bluffing on the Turkish-Iraqi border?
By Sami Moubayed

The dictionary definition of "terrorist" says: "A person, usually a member or group, who uses or advocates terrorism," adding that it is a "person who terrorizes or frightens others".

By all accounts, both definitions apply to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is operating against Turkey from northern Iraq, with approximately 3,500 insurgents, under the watchful eye of the United States. The PKK after all "uses" and "advocates" terrorism and it does "terrorize" and "frighten" the people of

Turkey. The US seemingly agrees with this terminology, and so does the European Union. Both say that the PKK is a "terrorist group" but are unable - or unwilling - to lift a finger to halt its military operations in Turkey.

Much of the world currently seems fixated on the Turkish-Iraqi border, where 60,000 Turkish troops are mobilized on high-alert, awaiting orders to carry out cross-border operations into Iraqi Kurdistan. On Wednesday, the Turkish Parliament voted in favor of a one-year mandate for the Turkish Army to carry out strikes to root out the PKK from Iraq. Out of 550 deputies, an impressive 526 voted for the military adventure.

Oil prices have soared as a result of the escalation in tension, with the price of US crude reaching US$89 per barrel on Thursday. Mustapha al-Sayyed, a Syrian oil analyst, expects that if the Turks attack, "the price of crude oil will reach no less than $120 per barrel". Gasoline went up 13 cents, to $2.17 per gallon, and heating oil futures rose 1.1 cents to $2.31 per gallon. Dealers are afraid that if conflict breaks out this would hit production in oil-rich Kirkuk, affecting the parts of the world that are preparing for winter.

More than ever before, the Turks seem determined to carry out a military operation, claiming that neither the Americans nor the Iraqis have been able to put an end to the PKK. General Hilmi Ozkok, commander of the Turkish Army, when asked whether Turkey planned to seek US permission before incursions into Iraq, replied: "We cannot take a decision of that kind based on the US. Every country is sovereign. Every country makes its own decisions. If the conditions change, you act by the changing conditions."

A military attack, however, would put both the US and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in a tight spot. The Americans claim that they already have their hands full in Iraq, combating Shi'ite militias like those of Muqtada al-Sadr, Sunni forces loyal to Saddam Hussein, and al-Qaeda adherents. Making matters worse, the US is not winning those battles.

Simply put, the Americans cannot, even if they wished to, take on the PKK at this stage. Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, acknowledged this, confirming that combating the PKK is a low priority for the US because it has "its hands full" dealing with "al-Qaeda". He added, "There is only so much you can do at one time," before returning the ball to the Kurdish court by noting, "The Kurdish Regional Government has a sizeable military component and they have the means, we believe, to address this problem. Hopefully they can address it by exerting their influence over members of the PKK and that it doesn't require military action in other parts of Iraq."

Northern Iraq is relatively stable, after all, and the US cannot afford to see it ablaze like the rest of the war-torn country. The Americans know (and so do the Turks) how difficult it is to combat a guerrilla movement like the PKK. The Turks have been doing it non-stop since 1984 and yet have been unable to eliminate the PKK. This Turkish war, as everybody on both sides knows, has cost nearly 40,000 lives. Rather than worry about it, the US has decided to turn a blind eye.

Apologists for the US administration tend to follow the argument that the Americans would love to help out, but they simply cannot. They cite the US's historical friendship with Turkey, and the fact that the PKK is considered a "terrorist organization" by the Department of State. This does not wash with at least one Turkish daily newspaper, wich has referred bitterly to a visit to Turkey by the US State Department special advisor on Iraq, David Satterfield, in April this year. Satterfield basically confirmed that the PKK was a "terrorist organization", and promised to crack down on its activities and close its offices in Iraq. When asked "how soon?", he replied, "within weeks, not months". Either Satterfield was lying, or he had just landed from another planet without being briefed on how powerful the PKK was becoming in Iraqi Kurdistan.

There are two arguments floating in Turkey at the moment.

One says that an immediate cross-border operation is a must and there is no turning back for Turkey. It has to take authoritative and decisive action to rid itself of a terrorist menace that has been striking within its territory and on its border for the past 20 years. Regardless if the US accepts it or not - and while attaching little importance to whether the PKK is actually backed by the US - the Turks must act. They believe that Turkey's leaders, President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have made up their minds and it's just a matter of time before a cross-border operation takes place; a scenario that could lead to a variety of outcomes for Iraq and the rest of the Arab World.

A second argument says that Turkey should not get dragged into the PKK trap. Supporters of this argument claim that the PKK has been losing its power base within Turkey ever since its former leader, Abdullah Ocelan, was arrested in the 1990s. During the latest elections, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a majority in 12 out of 15 provinces. Even provinces with an overwhelming Kurdish population voted for the AKP, with approximately 70% of the vote. On a nationwide level, the AKP scored with 47%. This shows that ordinary Kurds - those born after the PKK began its war against the state, are more interested in the standard and quality of living (which the AKP promised to provide) than in armed revolt.

Ever since the APK came to power nearly five years ago, it has put a lot of money into the Kurdish-populated southern region, building roads and bringing clean, running water and uninterrupted electricity to villages. Modern and affordable houses are being built by the government, giving Kurdish youth little room to complain.

More recently, President Gul visited the underdeveloped south - the first such visit by a Turkish president since Kenan Evren's in 1990. He mingled with locals, shook their hands, and listened to their worries, greatly defusing tension. These projects have embarrassed the PKK, affected their popularity, and increased support for the APK.

If the APK continues helping Kurdish Turks achieve a better life, a call to arms by the PKK will fall on deaf ears. Radicals usually get nervous when confronted by moderates; they don't know how to deal with them. It becomes increasingly difficult for the PKK to justify violence when the Turkish government is giving the Kurds nothing but incentives to appease their disgruntled community. The PKK would rather that the Turks go to war against them. That would give them a free hand to pursue their leftist agenda from the Iraqi border. It would also raise their popularity within the

Continued 1 2 

Turkey into Iraq? Easier said than done (Oct 18, '07)

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2. Caspian summit a triumph for Tehran

3. Bush's faith run over by history

4. Masters of war plan for next 100 years

5. It's the resistance, stupid

6. Daughter of the East returns - with West's aid

7. Singapore squirms as Burmese protest

8. India to curb foreign funds deluge

9. Turkey into Iraq? Easier said than done

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Oct 18, 2007)


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