Page 1 of 2 Iran looms over Turkey crisis diplomacy
By M K Bhadrakumar
With the crisis on the Turkish-Iraqi border region at its peak, and amid
distinct signs that a large scale Turkish invasion is imminent, eyebrows were
raised when Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan left Ankara on Monday and
headed for London. Why London?
In another time, in the year 1914, it might have made sense - an Ottoman sultan
facing the Arab revolt instigated by Britain, setting
out on a voyage from Constantinople, seeking settlement. Of course, analogies
from history never quite apply. But there is something extraordinary about
these diplomatic activities.
United States President George W Bush revealed on October 17 that he's "told
people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you
ought to be interested in preventing them [Iran] from having the knowledge
necessary to make a nuclear weapon".
Man has never before in his bloody history waged preemptive war against the
spread of knowledge. The nearest he came was with the Inquisition when he
insisted knowledge was heresy. But when Bush warns of preemptive war, it must
be taken seriously. With a world war on its doorstep, Turkey is coming under
enormous pressure to take sides.
Erdogan did the right thing visiting Britain. He should check out the thinking
in London, pick up signals. The sun may have set on the British Empire, but
London still has an enviable say in the affairs of Mesopotamia. The London
Times quoted British Defense Ministry sources on Sunday saying that SAS
(Special Air Service Regiment) commandos, operating jointly with the US and
Australian special forces units, have engaged in at least a dozen intense
firefights in the recent weeks with Iranian border guards. The newspaper spoke
of British special forces having repeatedly crossed into Iran several times in
recent weeks, and of "persistent reports of American special-operations
missions inside Iran preparing for a possible attack".
Erdogan would be justified if he wondered as he left Ankara whether the world
war had already begun. There are many who think the destruction of the World
Trade Center towers in New York on 9/11 was in line with a 1654 prediction by
Nostradamus. They recall that the 16th century seer had written:
City of God there will be a great thunder,
Two brothers torn apart by Chaos,
While the fortress endures,
The great leader will succumb,
The third big war will begin when the big city is burning.
be sure, there is an ominous ring about Bush's revelation on October 17. He
could well be the "great leader" that Nostradamus meant.
It's Iran, stupid!
It seems a coincidence that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also happened to
be visiting London on Monday. Miri Eisin, Olmert's spokesman, said a meeting
with Erdogan had been "added" to the Israeli prime minister's itinerary, and
that they would likely discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions and the Palestine peace
moves. But why the hurry? It is hardly a fortnight since the Turkish Foreign
Minister Ali Babacan visited Israel.
Besides, if the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed
ElBaradei, is to be believed, there is still plenty of time for diplomacy with
Iran. He told Le Monde newspaper over the weekend, "I cannot judge their
intentions, but, assuming Iran does intend to acquire a nuclear bomb, it would
need between another three and eight years to succeed. All the intelligence
services agree on that. I want to get people away from the idea that Iran will
be a threat from tomorrow, and that we are right now faced with the issue of
whether Iran should be bombed or allowed to have the bomb. We are not at all in
that situation. Iraq is a glaring example how, in many cases, the use of force
exacerbates the problem rather than solving it."
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband left London at the weekend
for Washington for consultations over Iraq and Iran, with particular focus on
the tensions on the Turkish-Iraqi border. Erdogan himself is traveling to
Washington at the beginning of November. And whenever there is criticality in
Western strategy in the Middle East, little Jordan gingerly pops up. To be
sure, King Abdullah is visiting Turkey next week.
An apparent theme running through all this diplomatic activity is the
snowballing crisis in the Turkish-Iraqi border region. But somewhere in the
near background, there is the lengthening shadow of the Iran question. Israeli
diplomatic activity has picked up sharply. Olmert has just concluded a packed
European tour. Israeli intelligence officials and opinion makers in the
strategy community are fanning out and are descending on friendly capitals such
as New Delhi. They carry fearsome tales about Iran. Israel seems geared up for
a big-time role.
The point is, several unanswered questions remain about the sudden eruption of
Kurdish violence in Turkey's eastern provinces bordering Iraq and Iran. Some
templates are visible.
The PKK enigma
It is at once obvious that the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is not acting on
its own. The PKK cadres are extremely well equipped and far better trained than
at any time in their 25-year campaign of violence. Equally, it is common
knowledge that the president of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq,
Massoud Barzani, is playing hide and seek (which comes naturally to a wily Kurd
reared in the tough mountains of his homeland) - publicly dissociating from the
PKK; pleading inability to curb PKK activities from bases located in territory
under his control; but reserving the right to oppose any Turkish cross-border
operations in pursuit of the PKK.
There is also much evidence that weapons given by the US to Barzani, ostensibly
for fighting al-Qaeda, are finding their way into the PKK's hands. How this can
happen no one cares to explain. Barzani is a staunch ally of the US - and of
Israel. The US pleads its forces are overstretched in Iraq and cannot do
anything much by way of curbing PKK activities.
Yet nothing much can happen in that region without US acquiescence. It is a
region where the US Special Forces have been active in kidnapping visiting
Iranian functionaries. They are pretty much clued in on what goes on there. The
Kurdish region is a crucial theater of US strategy in Iraq. The US is using
northern Iraqi Kurdistan as a launching pad for undertaking covert activities
The same is the case with Israel. Israeli businessmen are having a whale of a
time in northern Iraq. They are there for the long haul. They have bought up
much real estate in and around Suleymaniah. They are traveling in a gravy train
with corrupt Kurdish local officials. They have grandiose business plans
riveted around the evacuation of northern Iraq's oil and gas via Turkish
pipelines. They are thick with Barzani too.
Northern Iraq is a region where Israel has established a very strong
intelligence presence over the past four years. It is a region