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    Middle East
     Oct 23, 2007
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Turkey approaches its 'finest hour'
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - With tension rising on the Turkish-Iraqi border over the weekend - Kurdish rebels killed 17 Turkish troops on Sunday - the region could be plunged into war in a matter of days.

Armagan Kuloglu, a retired Turkish major general, expressed the public mood in Istanbul, saying: "With this incident, the arrow has left the bow, and no room is left for the government to hesitate, postpone or fail to launch a cross-border operation."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan summed it up

simply, "Our anger is great." He then called for an emergency meeting with top politicians and officers, attended by President Abdullah Gul. The subsequent official communique stressed, "We will not hesitate to pay the price, no matter how high, to protect our citizens." It added, "We will show no tolerance whatsoever with those who support and help terrorism."

Apparently, as made clear on Monday morning, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called on the Turks to practice "self-restraint". The Turkish parliament has already given permission for the Turkish army to cross into Iraq to pursue an estimated 3,500 Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas who use their bases in Iraq to conduct attacks in Turkey.

News stations in Turkey on Monday reported that a convoy of 50 military vehicles loaded with soldiers and weapons was heading for the border with Iraq. Tens of thousands of Turkish troops are already deployed in the border area.

The latest PKK attacks took place after Kurdish rebels trespassed into Turkey and attacked soldiers in the town of Hakkari, nearly 40 kilometers miles from the border. This was the worst attack on Turkish nationals in nearly 10 years. Till now, to play down tension, the Turks have announced on several occasions that there is still room for diplomacy, adding that they are "not in a hurry" to order attacks on the Iraqi border. The Sunday attack, however, kills whatever patience or second thoughts they might have had and shows that the PKK - and whoever is behind them - actually wants Erdogan to invade northern Iraq.

The killing of Turkish troops runs contrary to a message sent by Massoud al-Barazani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, to the Turkish government less than 24 hours earlier, calling for dialogue to avert a military clash between the PKK and the Turkish army. The Erdogan government, however, curtly refused to meet the PKK, claiming that it is a "terrorist organization" and called on the United States and Iraq to get it to lay down its arms. Barazani added, "We are not going to be caught up in the PKK and Turkish war."

Echoing Barazani in a similar contradiction was Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, also a Kurd, who was quoted in the French daily Le Figaro as saying he had told the PKK "it should now understand that the world has changed and that the era of Che Guevaras is over". He added, "I am telling the PKK to go to Turkey and join discussions in Parliament."

Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister (another Kurd), contributed to the mixed signals being sent to Turkey by saying, "This party [the PKK] is not present with the approval of the Iraqi government or the government of the Kurdish region. The Iraqi government has asked them and other military groups to leave Iraq." He added, "Absolutely, with no doubt, our formal request is that they leave Iraqi soil and leave Iraq for its people and do not bring us more problems than we're already suffering. Kurdistan is a stable area and it is not in the interests of any party, or any side, to threaten its stability." Asked if the government was giving the PKK a timetable to leave, Zebari said, "As soon as possible."

What America wants
"Black Sunday" seems to show that key players - Talabani, Barazani and Zebari - and US president George W Bush - are simply not telling the truth. The Kurdish leaders insist, and so does the United States, that the PKK operates from northern Iraq on its own, with no mandate from either Kurdish decision-makers, the Iraqi government or the Bush White House.

Speaking at a press conference with Barazani on Sunday, Talabani seemed to contradict himself, confirming his ties to the PKK by saying that all Turkish requests to arrest or extradite its leaders were "a dream that will never be fulfilled". Earlier, he had bitterly criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a personal friend and former host, for having supported Turkey's claim to self-defense in its war with the PKK. This means that something is just not right in the Kurdish and American denial of PKK connections.

For years, Turkey had been one of America's best friends in the East. In the 1950s, it actively contributed to the containment of communism and the seemingly excellent working relationship between Washington and Ankara lasted long after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Then came the victory of the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party in 2002, followed by the war on Iraq, which Erdogan opposed from day 1. Relations soured after the Turks refused to grant the US passage rights over Turkey to launch its war on Iraq. Ties have been on a downward slope ever since.

Lately, the Turks have presented an "invoice" to the US - demanding reward for all that they offered during the Cold War. They didn't want money, their reward was to come in the form of crushing the PKK. The United States, immersed in combating other militias throughout Iraq, did not respond. Instead, it turned its back on an old friend with a blind eye to the PKK (which, ironically, it considers "terrorist" as well).

The Americans will not abandon their Kurdish allies (Barazani and Talabani) because they are some of the few politicians in Iraq who remain cooperative, and risk havoc in the relatively peaceful and stable district of Kurdistan. As a result, anti-Americanism has grown in Turkey.

The situation in Kurdistan, support for the PKK, the chaos "spilling in" from Iraq, and America's support for Israel in its war with the Palestinians, have all contributed to why America is losing friends in Turkey. A recent Pew Global Trend survey showed that 91% of Turks distrust the United States. That number is usually reserved for countries like Iran or Palestine, but not a former "best friend" like the Turkish republic.

On October 19, Erdogan appeared in an interview with Kanal 24 TV, saying: "We have expectations mainly from the US more than Iraq. We want the coalition forces - mainly the US - to take a step here." He added, "Our demands from them are known and we will see what happens in time. We will put into action our own road map if we do not get the results we want."

Erdogan, not expecting Sunday's development, had hoped to postpone the crisis until he met US President George W Bush in Washington in November. Waiting to see what the Americans would say is probably want prompted Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul to say that military intervention "is not urgent" shortly after the bill passed in the Turkish Parliament.

After Sunday, however, everything has changed. The Turks are wondering why the Americans are so passive with regard to the PKK. Whatever happened to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)? The article says that an attack on any

Continued 1 2 

Who's bluffing on the Turkish-Iraqi border? (Oct 20, '07)

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

Turkey fears Kurds, not Armenians (Oct 16, '07)

1. Bhutto bombs kick off war against US paln

2. Pakistan plans all-out war on militants

3. Benazir's second homecoming

4. Who's bluffing on the Turkish-Iraqi border?

5. Leave, or we will behead you

6. Dear Dinosaurs

7. Bush's faith run over by history

8. Caspian summit a triumph for Tehran

9. Masters of war plan for next 100 years

10. US House waffles on genocide

(Oct 19-21, 2007)


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