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Iraq - Teetering on the Edge

Iraq is teetering on the edge, but this one is not into civil war. Iraq could find itself at war with Turkey. It is stunning to imagine that a nation in name only; with (reportedly) fewer than 10,000 soldiers “combat capable;” living under a foreign occupation and an increasingly bloody struggle for power; could find itself having to defend its “sovereignty” against Turkey.

The issue is the increasingly open conflict between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey. Turkey has a long history of conflict with the Kurds, and has been adamant about not allowing a Kurdish state on their border... and that Kurdish state has been a threat since the U.S. made an alliance with the Kurds prior to invasion and overthrow of Hussain.

Things have been getting increasingly hot on the Iraq-Turkey border. Tensions marked by threats and cross border raids, and recent shelling by Turkey (which are largely being officially denied). However, there is no denying the increasing tension, and Kurdish refusal of Turkey's demands to stop the PKK - a labeled terrorist organization - from its alleged attacks inside Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has stated that he would not stand in the way of a military request to attack across the border:

"Today a foreign news agency announced that Turkey was involved in an over-the-border operation. Later, these reports were denied. What is it that is desired with these sorts of reports? If actions based in northern Iraq and aimed at our country don't make us uncomfortable, who will they make uncomfortable? There is no argument between our administration and the military's General Staff on this front. If there are to be over-the-border operation steps taken, we will first enter into talks with our security forces, and then it will be carried to the Parliament. If a request comes from the armed forces, we will not stand in front of them. What the time comes, we will do what is needed."

As I noted in my May 5, 2007 article Of Surges and Purges, open conflict - even war - between the Kurds and Turkey would place the United States in a very bad position. Two allies of the US essentially at war with each other, with the United States essentially pledged to protect Iraq, could result in the U.S. at war with Turkey.

While the sore point with Turkey are with the Kurds, the Kurds are in Iraq and part of the Iraqi government. An attack on the Kurds by another nation is an attack on Iraq. It seems unlikely (and perhaps in the long term unwise) to act as if such conflict is "regional" rather than national.

Utilizing a convoluted and callous logic, open conflict between Iraq and Turkey could serve multiple purposes. For Turkey, which is facing a political crisis in a power match between secular and religious tug of war for political power, a "war" might serve as a unifying action. Ironically, the same might be true with Iraq. While, the Kurds have been separate for some time from the rest of Iraq, they are part of Iraq. An invasion of northern Iraq could be a rallying and unifying point for Iraqis. It might also be a blessing to the U.S. occupation as Turkey could be labeled as the "invader" rather than U.S. forces. Of course, that might damage any alliance between the U.S. and Turkey.

Despite the fact of a long U.S. - Iraqi Kurd alliance, the U.S. has historically been willing to look the other way regarding attacks from Turkey. Under the long sanctions that were placed on Iraq, the United States implemented the northern "No-fly zone."* While the Northern No-Fly Zone protected the Kurdish area from Hussain, those protections were periodically withdrawn so the Turkish Air Force could make bombing runs into northern Iraq.**

The fact that Turkey has been accepted to candidacy to membership in the European Union may prove a double-edged sword. Would the EU feel somewhat bound to back Turkey in such a conflict, or would it distance itself? There has already been some distancing of the EU from Turkey because of the political turmoil in Turkey.

Given that part of the EU has supported the U.S. invasion and occupation (most strongly Britain and Poland) would Turkish military action against Iraq pose a further challenge to a sometimes contentious European Union?

Certainly, the ongoing conflict between the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey is yet one more instability in a region that is becoming increasingly unstable. It is not a desirable development to have that expand into "formal" military action. Such conflict, even at its present level, is thorn in the foot of stability in Iraq.


* Contrary to rhetoric, the no-fly zones did not have UN approval, and were not part of UN sanctions.
** This information from a personal military source who was part of that operation.

Posted by Rowan Wolf at June 8, 2007 10:43 PM
Comments
Comment #222687

I see no reason at all why the EU would back Turkey in such a situation—and certainly not because of Turkey’s candidacy to join the EU.

In fact, the opposite would be true. Opinion in Europe runs pretty strongly against bringing in Turkey, and the pattern over the past years has been for Europe to look for reasons to keep Turkey out. This would be a very good reason to continue excluding Turkey from the EU.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at June 8, 2007 11:25 PM
Comment #222713

The complexity of this situation cannot be addressed in a short note. We can say that both sides are right and wrong. The PKK is a terror group and has been very nasty. The Turks have oppressed the Kurds in the past. The Kurds, spread across Turkey, Iraq, Iran & Syria are an ancient people and proably the world’s largest nation w/o a nation state.

The U.S. has a long alliance with the Iraqi Kurds and an even longer alliance with Turkey. I personally have am very well disposed to both Kurds and Turks and would prefer not to make a choice between them. There is no U.S. advantage to be gained from a conflict between them. I am sure we are using the leverage we have to dampen down the problem. I would point out that we had similar tension between NATO members Greece and Turkey on many occasions. Their alliance with NATO probably kept the wars from getting hot.

The interesting thing about Iraq is how the war is unfolding slow motion. If the Bush haters can indulge the historical speculation w/o dumping vitriol, I will explain. Before the war, we worried about several things. We talked about tens of thousands of U.S. casualties, millions of refugees, sectarian violence, & Turkish intervention in N. Iraq. The fighting in 2003 went very rapidly and we seemed to have avoided these things. It was too easy. The things we feared are coming to pass but instead of happening in one year, it is spread over four or five. I do not believe (and hope I am right) that U.S. casualties will reach the pre-war estimates and I still hope the Turkish intervention can be avoided. But I wonder how differently we would view this war if all these things had happened in the course of one year. In what you might call the Sherman school of war, maybe it is sometimes better to get all the nastiness done quick and get it over with.

Bush haters can now return. Yes it is all Bush’s fault for not going fast enough and for going too fast. Now that this is out of the way, I would appreciate comments on the situation. Would have a short and nasty campaign been better than what we got? The totals are becoming very similar, but a solution looks harder.

Posted by: Jack at June 9, 2007 2:27 PM
Comment #222723

Rowan,
Very fine article. Well done. The Turkish attack was no surprise. What is interesting is the timing of the attack. A recent bombing in a Turkish city killed some people, and wounded many. The Turks blamed it on the PKK.

The Kurdish government recently began negotiating to give Turkish and Norwegian oil firms contracts. This was very upsetting to the US and Iraqi government. The Iraq Oil Minister insisted any such contracts would be illegal. Those contracts would have gone to corporations from the wrong countries, and given the Kurds a degree of autonomy unacceptable to the Iraqi government.

The US may have tacitly accepted the Turkish incursion, since it served as a forceful warning to the Kurdish state.

Meanwhile, Sunni insurgents blew two of the main bridges to Kirkuk, effectively isolating the city. It is complicated… It will take a long time to play out… And since the US removed the government of Saddam Hussein, there is little we can do, other than watch the madness unfold.

Jack,
It is true, and I have commented before, that events in Iraq turned out to be just as bad as critics like myself suggested. But what people like myself missed was the length of time it would take. The situation deteriorated over a period of years, rather than weeks. It has been a slow motion bus crash- or Bush crash.

What if? What if? Saddam Hussein held his country together by hitting fast and hard, with maximum brutality. He put down a Kurdish rebellion at the end of the Iran/Iraq war, killing up to 100,000 Kurds. He put down a Shia rebellion after the First Gulf War, killing up to 300,000 Shias. His methods were extremely cruel, and extremely effective.

But I do no think we should have done the same, and the same holds true today. What is the point of bringing slaughter to Iraq, when the whole idea of replacing Saddam Hussein was that he was evil because he slaughtered Iraqis?

So I will say again, the best bet is to withdraw immediately. I am very disappointed with (some) Democrats for going along with Republicans, and continuing funding for the war.

What really worries me is the potential for something unexpected to happen, something really, really bad. Is there a faction in the White House, led by Cheney, agitating for us to bomb Iran? Could that faction create an incident, or egg the Israelis into doing it? Why was General Pace really replaced? Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? Is the replacement for Pace, the Naval guy Mellon, a true believing NeoCon?

What if someone finally gets to Al-Sadr, and kills him? In another unexpected development, he has turned out to be the best hope for a unified Iraqi government. The Maliki government is moribund, and unless it can last long enough for a peaceful election to hand the reigns over to Al-Sadr, a military dictatorship could take over very soon.

Posted by: phx8 at June 9, 2007 5:09 PM
Comment #222749

Perhaps an attack or war from another country is just what the Iraqis need to bring them together for a unified national cause. They would probably quit fighting and quarreling amongst themselves and become a more unified nation. It certainly helped to build strength, unification, and integrity in the early days just after the founding of our country. Though it would be unfortunate for such a nation as Turkey to be the one in conflict, it could promote some eye-opening to the real dangers in the Middle East from other opposing countries rather than from those within their own borders from opposing political groups.
However, judging from the reactions to the Iraq War by political parties in this country, perhaps expecting unity in times of war is just too much to ask, and I’m just day-dreaming of a greater time in our earlier history.

JD

Posted by: JD at June 10, 2007 12:42 AM
Comment #222758

JD…it would appear, that to some factions in Iraq, WE are the attacking other country, and whatever unity it encouraged sure isn’t working well for us.

Posted by: Sandra Davidson at June 10, 2007 2:19 PM
Comment #222771

PHX8:

Leiberman certainly is advocating bombing Iran:

Lieberman: U.S. should weigh Iran attack

Then you have this problem:

U.S. general paints candid picture of Iraq army, police

Iraqi security forces should be in a position to take control of 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces by year’s end, although they will not be ready to fight on their own for some time, a top U.S. general said on Sunday.

Just wondering what the hell that means. Either they can take over or not. If they can’t fight on their own, they haven’t taken over.

Posted by: womanmarine at June 10, 2007 5:01 PM
Comment #222776

Womanmarine,
I saw the articles about the statements made by Lieberman. He is a deeply disgusting person, and fits right in with the NeoCon crazies. They continue to mislead the American people, sowing disinformation and outright lies through General Caldwell in Iraq, through unsourced stories repeated by a compliant US media.

Bush, Cheney, Lieberman, and others have been wrong about just about everything. They want to bomb Iran, and they continuing planting stories which are not credible, stories about how the Iranians are arming the Iraqi insurgency and now the Taliban. They continue their fearmongering. First it was about the nuclear program of Saddam Hussein, which was complete bullshit. Now they are doing the same with Iran.

In terms of Iraq, the surge makes no military or political sense. In terms of preparing for war with Iran, it makes a lot more sense.

There is little we can do about conflict between the Turks and Kurds. The article about turning over provinces to Iraqi control is a little silly, since three of the provinces are Kurdish, and have been effectively independent for some time. The other provinces either have small populations, or are in the south, which is a separate front in the civil war, this front being a fight between Shia factions vying for control.

I cannot overstate my disgust for the Bush administration and the NeoCons. They are pursuing another version of “stay the course” which runs the risk of catastrophic miscalculation through malevolent intent or even accident.

They have positioned us in a disastrous position, making an accident possible in the first place.

Worst. President. Ever.

Posted by: phx8 at June 10, 2007 6:04 PM
Comment #222802

There is another problem looming in Iraq. America, (can you say GW Bush) is arming the Sunnis to fight the al-Queda. We had better pray al-Queda remains in Iraq. Because the day al-Queda is removed from Iraq, the Sunnis will take those arms we are now providing them and turn them against our own soldiers once again, ala Afghanistan. This President’s absolute ignorance of history is truly without parallel. When will America end this policy of arming our future enemies?

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 11, 2007 12:14 PM
Comment #222805

David,
Straight from “Catch 22.” Soon Lt Milo Minderbinder will arrange for us to bomb ourselves, because after all, it really is more efficient and profitable for everyone involved in the syndicate.

Posted by: phx8 at June 11, 2007 12:38 PM
Comment #222854

“JD…it would appear, that to some factions in Iraq, WE are the attacking other country, and whatever unity it encouraged sure isn’t working well for us.”
Posted by: Sandra Davidson at June 10, 2007 02:19 PM


Few Iraqis consider us the enemy. Many are thankful that the U.S has liberated them from Saddam. Others are for the most part neutral. If it were not true we would have tens of thousands of more dead soldiers than we do now. This is why the media focuses nearly all of their attention on the number of dead civilians, police, and Iraqi forces killed by roadside bombs and suicide bombers. Perhaps, some in Iraq feel that we are the attacking country there because they have been told by the Democrats just that same message over and over again for the last six years, Sandra. Are you admitting now that the message of the Democrats have helped to unite the opposition against us there, and have hurt our cause? Perhaps, there is hope for some of you yet!

JD

Posted by: JD at June 11, 2007 7:57 PM
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