Thursday, July 19, 2007

Turkey May Invade Iraq For Domestic Political Reasons: 'Everything Depends On The Election'

Ahhh, the things we do for power. The strutting and posturing politicians do to in order to get themselves elected can bring dire consequences to innocent people in foreign countries, as we have seen repeatedly in the Excellent Adventures of Commander Guy the Reluctant War President.

This perverse dynamic is set to play itself out yet again -- or maybe not! -- in the mountains of northern Iraq, and Patrick Cockburn is there, just east of Arbil, writing about it for The Independent:

The Kurdish mountain army awaiting the next invasion of Iraq
Hiding in the high mountains and deep gorges of one of the world's great natural fortresses are bands of guerrillas whose presence could provoke a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq and the next war in the Middle East.

In the weeks before the Turkish election on Sunday, Turkey has threatened to cross the border into Iraq in pursuit of the guerrillas of the Turkish Kurdish movement, the PKK, and its Iranian Kurdish offshoot, Pejak.

The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, warns that there are 140,000 Turkish troops massed just north of the frontier.

"Until recently, we didn't take the Turkish threat that seriously but thought it was part of the election campaign," says Safeen Sezayee. A leading Iraqi Kurdish expert on Turkey and spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Mr Dezayee now sees an invasion as quite possible.

The Iraqi Kurds are becoming nervous. The drumbeat of threats from Turkish politicians and generals has become more persistent. "The government and opposition parties are competing to show nationalist fervour," says Mr Dezayee. Anti-PKK feeling is greater than ever in Turkey.

Most menacingly, Turkey is appalled that the Kurds are key players in Iraqi politics and are developing a semi-independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.
In addition to the "natural" threats, there's also the self-fulfilling prophecy of saber-rattling: the perception that starting a war -- even one you can't control -- is preferable to backing down quietly.

By this way of "thinking", it's far better for others should lose their lives than for an elite politician to lose face.
After the election, Ankara may find it impossible to retreat from the bellicose rhetoric of recent weeks and will send its troops across the border, even if the incursion is only on a limited scale.

If the Turkish army does invade, it will not find it easy to locate the PKK guerrillas. Their main headquarters is in the Qandil mountains which are on the Iranian border but conveniently close to Turkey. It is an area extraordinarily well-adapted for guerrilla warfare where even Saddam Hussein's armies found it impossible to penetrate.

In the town of Qala Diza, destroyed by Saddam Hussein but now being rebuilt, the local administrator Maj Bakir Abdul Rahman Hussein was quick to say that Qandil was ruled by the PKK: " We don't have any authority there." He said there was regular shelling from Iran that led to some border villages being evacuated but he did not seem to consider this out of the ordinary. "The Iranians do it whenever they are feeling international pressure," he said.
But it's domestic pressure -- in Turkey, not Iran -- that has the potential to bring this situation "out of the ordinary".
The scale of the fighting is small. Pejak launches sporadic raids into Iranian Kurdistan. The PKK stages ambushes and bombings in Turkey and has escalated its attacks this year, killing at least 67 soldiers and losing 110 of its own fighters according to the Turkish authorities. But this limited skirmishing could have an explosive impact. The attacks provide an excuse for Turkish action against an increasingly independent Iraqi Kurdish state. "They [the Turks] want an excuse to overturn what has been achieved in Iraqi Kurdistan," says Mr Dezayee. A referendum is to be held in northern Iraq by the end of 2007 under which the oil city of Kirkuk may vote to join the KRG. The incentive for a Turkish invasion is growing by the day.

"Everything depends on the result of the Turkish election," says Dr Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Iraqi Kurdish politician.

If the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wins a two-thirds majority then the pressure for an invasion may be off. But if he believes he lost votes because his anti-PKK and Turkish nationalist credentials were not strong enough then he might want to burnish them by ordering a cross border incursion.

The lightly armed PKK, knowing every inch of the mountainous terrain at Qandil, will be able to evade Turkish troops. But the Iraqi Kurds worry that they and not the PKK are the real target of the Turkish army. After making so many threats before the election, Turkey may find it difficult to back off without looking weak.
Turkey's election is Sunday, and we'll be watching the results -- electoral and otherwise -- very closely.