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Turkish/US attacks, undermining Kurdish self rule.

By Dr Rebwar Fatah

Turkey’s attacks on southern Kurdistan, using US-made warplanes, is part of a plot by the US and Turkey to undermine the Kurdistan de facto state that has been established in parts of southern Kurdistan since 1991.[1] Weeks of bombardments have resulted in civilian casualties, destruction of many villages and displacement of thousands of people. However, according to the Turkish General Staff, even stating that civilians have been killed in these attacks will serve terrorists.  [2] Turkey has committed these crimes with a tacit approval by the “democratic world”.

Realising that the international community is not concerned about the plight of the Kurds, the Turkish “parliament” discussed other measures, without giving the details, in addition to the bombardment, to eliminate the Kurdistan de facto state, known as the Kurdistan Regional Government. Turkey uses state terror under the pretext of pursuing terrorists or separatists.  To many Kurds’ surprise, Israel also started supporting this terror campaign against Kurds by offering technology to Turkey. [3]

What is the real aim of Turkish/US attacks on southern Kurdistan? The Kurds in southern Kurdistan are moving towards the formation of their own nation-state. The Kurds have shown that they are able to manage their own security, control their natural resources, particularly oil, and can put an effective pressure on the Iraqi government to return territories detached from Kurdistan, known as “disputed territories” in the Iraqi constitution. Moving towards a nation-state may be supported by the approved Iraqi constitution, which Kurds regard as a legal agreement between the Kurds and all the Iraqi political forces. In addition, it has the backing of the international community, in particular US and Britain. Now that the Iraqi government has been re-established - of course with Kurds as one of its pillars - all these forces purse annulling the promises that the constitution makes to Kurds.

The Arab and other political forces in Iraq also want to achieve what Turkey attempts to achieve via military aggression.  The weak Iraqi government is incapable to deal with the development in Kurdistan on these fronts, because, unlike Kurdistan, Iraq is to date in a deep security vacuum, incapable of containing Kurds. The Iraqi army is no match to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who are currently, in addition to KRG, keeping the security of areas controlled by the central government such as Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk and parts of Diyala. However, using force against Kurds by the Iraqi central government may not be very far away now. The improvement of the security situation in the government-controlled areas may free the Bagdad government to adopt an aggressive policy toward the Kurds. This intention has already been expressed by Iraqi Arab forces, in particular Sunnis. One can argue that Turkey is acting on behave of the Iraqi government too.

The Kurdish leadership needs to balance the pressure from Americans and regional powers against the demands of the Kurdish pubic who voted for independence in a referendum in 2004. Although the Kurdish leadership may be willing to compromise further on the core Kurdish issues, they fear that they might lose the control of the Kurdish population and ultimately jeopardise their own positions.  Nonetheless, the gap between the Kurdish political leadership and the Kurdish population has extended to a critical limit. Perhaps the controversial media-control law that was recently passed by the Kurdish parliament in order to limit freedoms of press, consequently resulting in a public outcry, is the wrong way to control the population.  Instead, rather than trying to control the population, the leadership must try to represent it.

In the absence of any other pretext and while the Kurdistan’s political leadership, under pressure by the Kurdish population, cannot compromise any further, the presence of the PKK in southern Kurdistan may be a helping hand.

The PKK, labelled by the US and EU member states, as a terrorist organisation, provides a pretext for the US/Turkey to pursue PKK camps inside southern Kurdistan. However, the actual aim of Turkish/US is to undermine the KRG, attempting to pushing it back to Iraq rather than drifting away as a separate state. Turkey is coordinating these attacks with the US and receiving moral and logistic assistance from it. In addition, the Turkish military arsenal is mainly American made.  In 2006, Turkey ranked sixth in the world and top in Europe, with $850 million in contracted sales of US-made weapons systems and services. During 2003-2006, Turkey signed deals worth $2.9 billion with U.S. arms manufacturers, ranking seventh in the world. [4]

Some observers believe that Turkey has a more regional aims in these recent attacks. It has been reported that the air attacks with 50 planes in one night, fuel transfer in the air, using laser technology to identify and hit targets were all aimed at sending a message about the strength of the Turkish Air Force to the region, rather than really targeting the PKK. [5] One would have thought to eliminate a “terrorist group”, 50 warplanes would not be required. This is more like an attack on a country or a nation, rather than on a group.

Perhaps Turkey is planning to incorporate southern Kurdistan into its own territory as it seems that the division of Iraq is now inevitable. This does appear to be a bizarre idea, but Turkey has proven that it does not follow logics. Perhaps similar to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait which marked the beginning of the end of his regime, the Turkish invasion of southern Kurdistan may also mark the beginning of a new state of Turkey. Such an invasion would lead to destabilising Turkey and the region as it would be unpopular with Arab states and Iran. The Kurds of southern and northern Kurdistan would unite to fight one oppressor: Turkey.  The KRG, which now acts as a buffer zone between Turkey and government controlled Iraq would disappear, opening Turkey to the insurgent groups of Iraq, extending the deep Iraqi security vacuum to Turkey; the fragmentation of Turkey would be inevitable.

Where do the Kurds stand in all these developments? Until recently, the Kurdish leadership and some intellectuals failed to develop a deep understanding of the issues facing them. Perhaps that is the reason why the Kurds do not have a coherent policy on the anti-Kurdish US/Turkish alliance. For example, the best the President of Kurdistan, Massuad Barzani, could do is condemn these attacks without taking any measures.  The leader, who at one time claimed he would turn Kurdistan into the graveyard of the Turkish army, appears powerless in real crises. [6] This is an indication that Kurdish leadership has not developed a Kurdistani-strategy, and instead, reacts hesitantly to looming circumstances. Even Talabani, the PUK leader and the President of Iraq, believes that hostility against Turkey is hostility against democracy. [7]

Media reports suggest that the Iraqi government agreed to the Turkish/US attacks. Let us not forget, the Iraqi government has two pillars, Kurds and Shiia Arabs. Therefore, Kurdish officials in Baghdad must have agreed to this aggression.  The media also reports that the Iraqi government informed the KRG. Whether the KRG agreed to this or not, it is for them to reveal. [8] Let us see if they did.

The KRG spokesman stated, "We call on the Turkish army to differentiate between the PKK and the ordinary people. We don't want the conflict between the Turkish troops and the PKK to turn into a conflict between the Turkish forces and the people of Kurdistan." [9] Therefore the Kurdish leadership is happy with the bombing their territory, while only pleading for their citizens.

The view of the KRG’s agreement to the Turkish/US attacks has found more support. No Kurdish minister in the Iraqi government condemned these attacks. The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd and a high ranking member of Barzani’s party KDP, has expressed his country’s willingness to coordinate these attacks with Turkey. Perhaps Zebari is a rare Kurd who would rather pursue the slaughter of his own people by Turkish/US bombings. [10] There is no coherent Kurdish foreign policy.  Instead, there may only be a narrow partisan policy, which has nothing to do with representing Kurdish nation in the international arena, and consequently, no one will take the narrow Kurdish political groups’ policies seriously.

The Kurdish leadership must learn how to deal with crises. They could have organised an international diplomatic campaign by sending their delegation to the democratic world. They could have organised peaceful demonstrations all over the democratic world and in Kurdistan. In this way, the Kurds could have attracted the international attention to the Turkish/US aggression. The Kurds would have been in a strong position since neither Turkey nor the US is very popular in today’s world. Perhaps as the gap between a corrupt and incompetent leadership and the population expands to a critical stage, gaining the support of the Kurdistani population may not be possible. Over 50 Kurdistani members in the Iraqi assembly should have been the decisive force in pushing these matters forward, but they appear to be incapable in influencing the Iraqi government.  Why did not they take any action?

By contrast, Kurds outside the main Kurdish political stream have strongly condemned these attacks and have labelled them as “state terror”. These voices state that the US has proven yet again that it is still the old bully of peaceful nations and is still the same perpetrator of 1975, when Mustafa Barzani was betrayed. These are low voices with no political power, but it may represent a shift in the Kurdish official policy. There is evidence in the media that the Kurds are about to move from a romantic to a more realistic relationship with the US, where they do not sacrifice their national interests to that of the US.  

<b>End notes</b>

1. The Washington Post, 18 December 2007:  The US is a helping hand in these attacks. “The United States is providing Turkey with real-time intelligence that has helped the Turkish military target a series of attacks this month against Kurdish separatists holed up in northern Iraq, including a large airstrike on Sunday.”

The Christian Science Monitor, 19 December 2007: Turkey has deployed some 100,000 troops along the border with southern Kurdistan over the summer and threatened a major cross-border operation – it has conducted 24 since 1985 – if Iraqi Kurds and US forces in Iraq did not deal with the PKK. So far this year, Turkey has conducted a string of small-scale border crossings, and regularly shells villages and PKK bases on the Iraqi side of the border. The 300 troops who went into Iraq Tuesday have returned to Turkey, according to Kurdish officials.

2. The Christian Science Monitor, 19 December 2007: The Turkish General Staff denied Iraqi Kurdish claims of civilian casualties, saying in a statement about the Sunday airstrikes that "targets were determined after a meticulous assessment and they were not in areas inhabited by civilians. Claims that civilians were killed serve the PKK."

3. AP, 27 December 2007: Israeli defense contractors plan to deliver to Turkey, within weeks, 10 unmanned aircraft that will be used, among other things, in intelligence-gathering operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party or the PKK, reported Associated Press on 27 December 2007. This is part of the $190 million deal with the Turkish Air Force, signed several years ago, Israeli crews will provide training and technical support for the Heron systems, AP reported.

4. The Congressional Research Center (CRS) report for Congress details U.S. arms sales agreements and deliveries to major clients during 1999-2006. Turkey has not taken part in any substantial outside conflicts since the illegal invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974, which has been condemned by the international community and a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning it. The majority of these weapons systems are used internally to oppress 25 million Kurds of northern Kurdistan. They have been used in destruction of the Kurdish villages and maintaining the emergency rule of northern Kurdistan. They also used in major attacks on southern Kurdistan. Observers believe that the US support for Turkish attacks on southern Kurdistan stems from opening up market for US weapons system.

5.  The Evrensel newspaper, 23 December 2007: Ertugrul Kurkcu, Bianet's project coordinator, evaluated the current discourses on the Kurdish issue, interview with the Evrensel newspaper.

6. Washington Post, 27 September 2002: Turkish officials have obliquely threatened to send troops into northern Iraq to thwart Kurdish ambitions there; a Kurdish leader replied that northern Iraq would then become a "graveyard" for Turkish troops.

7.  The Bugün daily, 02 January 2008, Interview with Talabani: "In my view, hostility against Erdogan and his government is equal to hostility against democracy."  "I have said the same thing to people from the DTP [pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party] coming to see me. Prime Minister Erdogan wants to resolve the [Kurdish] problem. But there are difficulties posed by both those who want to hinder democratization efforts and the PKK," Talabani said.

8. CNN, 24 December 2004: U.S., Turkish and Iraqi leaders all held talks 24 December 2007 about the PKK in southern Kurdistan.  President Bush chatted by phone with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while separately two senior Iraq national government figures met with the head of the KRG officials. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said they discussed their common efforts to fight terrorism, and the importance of the United States, Turkey and Iraq working together to confront the PKK. Bush has vowed to help Turkey fight PKK rebels.

9.  AP, 16 December 2007: Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, told AP Television News: "We call on the Turkish army to differentiate between the PKK and the ordinary people. We don't want the conflict between the Turkish troops and the PKK to turn into a conflict between the Turkish forces and the people of Kurdistan."

10. Reuters, 17 December 2007:  Hoshiyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, stated, "We fully understand Turkish legitimate security concerns over PKK Terrorism across the border, and our government's position is very clear on that.”