Friday, November 30, 2007

Turkey-Kurdistan war politics

[Commander of the Turkish Armed Forces General Mehmet Yaşar] Büyükanıt asked, "Once we enter northern Iraq, are we going to fight only the PKK, or will something happen with Barzani?"(1)
(1st June 2007)

Basically they are talking about a full scale war.(2)
(20th October 2007)

After meeting with President [Abdullah] Gül yesterday, CHP [Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People's Party)] leader [Deniz] Baykal said that: "not only the terrorists but also their cohorts have to be punished".

Baykal's words are a reflection of the signal given by the top of the state. Now Turkey is sure of one thing. A cross-border operation done without punishing [Massoud] Barzani and [Jalal] Talabani will be useless. It is not possible to solve the problem by striking pin-point targets.(3)(4)
(23rd October 2007)

[Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet] Bahçeli called for an immediate incursion into northern Iraq.... "If there is an impression that anti-terrorism efforts are not bearing fruit, the fury on the streets will become uncontrollable," he said, adding that if Turkey refrained from using force, its strength would be questioned.

The Habur border gate and İncirlik air base are still open, he said, calling for their closure and ending electricity exports to northern iraq. "Turkey is faced with a threat of war. Massoud Barzani can now be considered the leader of terrorists. Any incursion into northern Iraq should cover the objectives of eliminating the PKK and the threat posed by peshmergas," he said.(5)
(24th October 2007)

[Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan had said that the country was in a "constant state of alert" and warned that "those who support terrorists and even those who turn a blind eye to them, are partners in crime".(6)
(27th October 2007)

If Turkey attacks, PKK commander Murat Karayılan says, "we will take the war into their cities."(7)
(29th October 2007)

Erdoğan said for Barzani: "He is abetting the terrorist organization in the region; period. And what this means in international law is obvious."(8)
(2nd November 2007)

"We have taken the decision to pursue an operation," Mr. Erdoğan said.... "We are not seeking war."(9)
(7th November 2007)

Now he [CHP leader Deniz Baykal] is defending the notion that Turkey should engage in "surgical operations" that would target only the PKK.... calling for providing water to the region and developing trade relations.(10)
(10th November 2007)
This was and is once more a (compared to what it at one point became, relatively) short post presenting an interesting discussion I was part of, about Turkey's present and future action in south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq (northern and southern Kurdistan, respectively), much delayed by other work.

I followed up so many points of fact and context, though, on the inter-communal and left-right clashes in Turkey and Cyprus, that I now have a couple of dozen other posts being written, ranging from short notes to long backgrounders, some of which were for this post, some of which were for this post's own notes and backgrounders.

The Kurdish workers (neither members of the Party, nor Turkish settlers) I know here have been very friendly and understanding, both of my poor Turkish and of my limited, foreigner's comprehension of this unfathomably complicated (karışık) situation. I didn't understand every word or remember every word I understood, but they did make a conscious effort to be understood.

The gist of the most recent discussion I was present at was that:
Arkadaşım: Kazanacak [Türk Ordusu].
Arkadaşı: Nasıl kazanacak? Dağlar Kürtler'in.
Arkadaşım: Üç bin PKK, yüz bin Türk asker var... Kazanacak.
Arkadaşı: Kazanmaz. Dağlık arazinde olmaz. Tanklar, zırhlı savaş araçları geçirmez. Bırakacak, dağlarında kırılacak.
Arkadaşım: Uçak, helikopter geçebilir. Kazanacak.(11)

My friend: They [the Turkish army] will win.
His friend: How will they win? The mountains are the Kurds'.
My friend: There are three thousand PKK and one hundred thousand Turkish soldiers... They will win.
His friend: They won't win. It's impossible in the highlands. Tanks, armoured vehicles cannot get through. They will be stopped, they will be broken in the mountains.
My friend: Plane[s], helicopter[s] can pass. They will win.(11)
I offered my own equally grim assessment (though I have since revised it):
Ben: Kazanacak. Yani, kazanmayacak ama kazanacak, çünkü kazanmak istemiyor.
Arkadaşım: Nasıl yani?

Me: They will win. I mean, they won't "win", but they will win, because they don't want to "win".
My friend: How do you mean?
Dikkat et: ileride İngiltere demek Britanya demektir.
Caution: in the following, England means Britain.
Ben: Sadece kaos yapmak istiyor. Kazanmak lazım değil, kazanması lazım değil. Sadece onların gücünün azalması lazım. Gücsüz bir komşu istiyor. Kürdistan büyük bir ateş olacak.
Arkadaşım: Tabii. Dünyada hiç kimse güclü bir komşuyu istemez. İngiltere mi güclü bir komşuyu istiyor mu?
Kahkahayla güldük.
Ben: İngiltere'nin bir komşu yok.
Tekrar kahkahayla güldük.

Me: They just want to create chaos. It isn't necessary to win, it isn't necessary for them to win. It's only necessary for them to weaken them. They want a weak neighbour. Kurdistan will be one big fire.
My friend: Of course. No-one in the world wants a strong neighbour. Does England want a strong neighbour?
We laughed.
Me: England doesn't have a neighbour.
We laughed again.
(We had previously talked about Northern Ireland and Britain's Dirty War, in which it committed terrorist acts, including the commission of extra-judicial execution of members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) (see the documentary "Death on the Rock") and collusion in the murder of a civil rights lawyer (see the Stevens Inquiry). In the structure of the conflicts, if not their ferocity, we agreed that there were strong parallels between Britain's war with the IRA and Turkey's war with the PKK.)
Ben: Tamam ama gerçekten, İngiltere'nin bir komşu yok. Hem Galler hem İskoçça hem de İngiltere bir devlet... ama Britanya'nın? Onun hakkında konuşmak istemiyoruz.
Bilgiçlikle gülümseyip birbirimizle biraz daha çok konuştuktan sonra, çıktık.

Me: Okay, but really, England doesn't have a neighbour. Wales, Scotland and England are one state... but Britain's? We don't like to talk about that.
We all smiled knowingly, then after chatting a little more, left.(12)

We were all very pessimistic: aside from the military activity, the military and politicians' rhetoric and the media discussions, I had watched and they had seen or heard about a nationalist protest in Famagusta.

Cengiz Çandar (31st October 2007) believed that, 'Ahmedinajad [sic], therefore, supports Talabani and al Maliki tacitly and [again] tacitly objects [to the] operation by Turkey in [the] north of Iraq.... It seems that Iran sees the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq as a plan designed by the U.S. which will seek to set the score with Iran in the final stage.'

This would seem difficult to sustain, given, months before, the Associated Press (8th June 2007) had reported that 'Turkish and Iranian forces shelled Kurdish rebel positions across the border in northern Iraq' and Pepe Escobar (30th October 2007) had later reported a phone call in which 'they [Presidents Abdullah Gül and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] agreed both their countries are victims of terrorism.... [because] as the PKK attacks Turkey, its Iranian arm, the PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) attacks Iran'.

Nonetheless, perhaps they are trying to subdue what they perceive to be their easier, common enemy - Kurdish autonomists and/or separatists - even in the knowledge that it is part of wider play that could disadvantage them both, each hoping to stave off the worst consequences for itself.

Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu (6th November 2007) relayed US strategist Ian Lesser's expectation that, 'common ground on the PKK issue' and Prof. Beril Dedeoğlu's that, 'the extradition of a senior PKK leader' would enable the US to petition Turkey 'to take a stance against Iran'. (Mehmet Ali Birand (10th November 2007) listed more, more demanding objectives than that token offering, merely to prevent them from conducting cross-border operations in Iraq themselves.)

The U.S.A. categorises the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (Kurdistan Workers' Party)), but not the PJAK (Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê (Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan)), as terrorists, but Richard A. Oppel Jr. (23rd October 2007) revealed links both between the PJAK and the USA and between the PJAK and the PKK ('fighting campaigns to win new autonomy and rights for Kurds in Iran and Turkey.... [t]hey share leadership, logistics and allegiance to Abdullah Ocalan, the P.K.K. leader imprisoned in Turkey').

As Reese Erlich (March 2007a; b) reported, 'the United States has been supporting guerrilla raids against Iran, channeling the money through organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan' - and 'the Turks know exactly what’s going on.... [t]hey have their own agenda to pursue'.

Furthermore, Seymour M. Hersh (28th June 2004) reported that, 'Israeli intelligence and military operatives are now... providing training for Kurdish commando units and... running covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria' (although, according to Mizgîn, that only extends to support of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) pêşmerge). Ignoring its choice of language, given Iran has stated that it sees 'the "hand of the Zionist regime and the United States" behind the militants', it is clear that it, too, knows exactly what's going on.

Contrarily, via Mizgin at Rasti, I learned that one of the founders of the PKK, Cemil "Cuma" Bayık, 'said the US was in touch with the Party for Freedom in Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) in Iran, but that it was not helping actively' and that 'the Guardian saw no evidence of American weaponry [in PJAK camps in Iraq]', but Shexmus Amed in turn dismissed Bayık as 'one of the shadiest and the least trustworthy of characters in the PKK'.

In Walid Phares's (22nd October 2007) opinion:
the Iranian and Syrian regimes have been pushing the precarious mechanisms of a Turkish military intervention into Northern Iraq for a while now.... consist[ing] of three types of destabilization: An Iranian push in the south, a Syrian opening for the Jihadists in the center, and dragging Turkey to a dogfight in the mountains of the north....

Moreover, Iran's Pasdaran [Revolutionary Guard]... is said to have infiltrated some circles within the PKK.... Sources believe the PKK was manipulated by both Iran and Syria.... Hence the attacks triggering Turkish anger and responses may have been manipulated by the "axis."
It seems likely that Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT)(13) and its Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Organisation (JİTEM)(14) would try to mirror that with infiltration into and manipulation of PJAK, particularly with its potential to elicit an Iranian response that would both reduce Kurdish rebels' threat to Turkey and give the US more excuses to attack Iran (though what success they could have had I do not know).

Ian Black (23rd November 2007) noted that, 'of the foreign fighters who entered Iraq to join the insurgency in the past year.... 41%, were Saudis and... 18%, Libyans' and Richard A. Oppel Jr. (22nd November 2007) concluded, 'whatever aid Iran provides to militias inside Iraq does not seem to extend to supplying actual combatants: Only 11 Iranians are in American detention', but they could be providing similar support for their proxies as Turkey, the U.S. and Israel are providing for theirs.

David Clarke and Thomas Grove (24th October 2007) said that 'Turkish warplanes attacked a village in northern Iraq.... Turkish warplanes had flown a series of sorties 20 km (12 miles) into Iraq..., while some 300 troops had advanced about 10 km (6 miles) into northern Iraq.... Turkish warplanes and helicopters had [also] bombed PKK positions in southeast Turkey.' As Pepe Escobar (30th October 2007) observed, '[f]or all practical purposes, the Turkish military has already invaded Iraqi Kurdistan by a range of 12 kilometers, and Turkish jets have already unleashed air strikes'.

Ian Bremmer (22nd October 2007) counselled that,
First, the Turkish military has no interest in embracing the risks that come with involvement in Iraq's sectarian strife.... that can only undermine support for Erdogan's government at home and abroad.
Richard A. Oppel Jr. (7th November 2007) concurred that, 'if a large attack were to occur, Turkish soldiers would encounter thousands of Kurdish pesh merga fighters'. Oppel Jr. also deemed conflict unlikely (as Pepe Escobar), because 'the growing prosperity of this region is largely Turkish in origin'. That would make sense.

In 2002, Ertuğrul Kürkçü relayed some of the contents of "B.020", a document leaked from the office of then Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit:'"Relations [between Baghdad and the Kurdish parties] should be based on a broader framework ensuring that the [larger Kurdish] region remains politically and economically dependent on Turkey."... "Declarations in this direction [separate administration] will be a cause for intervention on our part".'

Cengiz Çandar (2nd November 2007) concurred with Mehmet Ali Birand (6th November 2007), who sighed that, 'intervention is the only way. At the same time, the intervention is not likely to achieve a lot'.

Bremmer went on:
Second, Turkey's government hopes to keep the country's bid to join the European Union moving forward....

Third, Turkey is well aware that an all-out attack inside Iraq is exactly what Turkey's Kurdish separatists want.
It is not quite that simple. Jürgen Gottschlich (24th October 2007) considered that, 'the PKK fears it could be the big loser if the situation becomes normalized.... Although Turkey had yet to come up with a lasting solution to the problem, 21 Kurds did win seats in parliament in the elections in July.... And it's quite possible that the chance of a parliamentary solution will be ruined if there is any further escalation.'

Yet (found via Clipmarks), Deborah Haynes (5th November 2007) relayed that, after the release of eight Turkish soldiers captured in battle with the PKK, the Head of the Office of Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, Fouad Hussain deemed that it 'proved... that the Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi leadership are part of the solution' and PKK spokeman Abdul Rahman al-Chaderchi that it was 'the proof that we do not want war'.

Iraqi Kurdish journalist Assos Hardi judged that 'Kurdish nationalism is at stake' and that the PKK and the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (Demokratik Toplum Partisi (DTP)) need some kind of conflict to stop Kurds parsing the difference between the Turkish government and the Turkish army and supporting the former.

Whatever the case, it is clear how rezalet things are when PKK member Helin Garza (July 2004) can 'believe they [the Turkish army] might stop fighting after we end the ceasefire' (my emphasis, because of the Turkish Armed Forces' repeated refusal to call a complementary cease-fire).

Bremmer continued:
[T]his latest move by Turkey's parliament should be seen more as an ultimatum to Iraq's Kurdish regional government to expel the Turkish Kurds and an attempt to persuade the US to use its considerable influence there. That's hardball politics....

There are risks for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as well, because Turkish military strikes on Iraq's northern provinces could undermine the Kurdish support on which his government increasingly depends. Both Sunni Arabs and Kurds already resent al-Maliki's mild reaction to Iran's recent shelling of Iraqi territory - an attempt to strike at Iranian Kurdish militants fleeing across its border with Iraq.
As Doğu Ergil (25th March 2007) noted,
In the past both the Barzani and Talabani peshmerga fought alongside... Turkish forces chasing PKK militia on Iraqi soil. After all... its armed existence was also a threat to the authority of the Iraqi Kurdish leadership... their sovereignty.
Pepe Escobar (30th October 2007) argued that, 'Talabani in fact does not care about Ankara.... Take the words of Qubad Talabani, dad's son..., "Kurds want the sort of 'strategic and institutional relationship' that Israel and Taiwan have with the United States ... We are seeking the same protection."'

Escobar judged that, '[t]his is above all connected to the greater water wars in the Middle East. The Turkish military wants to build the Ilisu dam on the Tigris River. With this, not only could they control the destiny of Iraqi Kurdistan, but they could also erase dozens of Kurdish towns and villages and thus local support for the PKK.'

(That is very plausibly one part of a much more mingled set of conflicts: Turkey has begun 'arbitrary expropriation' of Kurdish villages, with international funding for the Ilisu Dam Project, despite the fact that it 'drastically fail[s] to reach World Bank standards'.)

Turkey's (and Iraq's) internal power struggles - not least of all those struggles within the Kurdish community - do seem to be driving forces in this drama. Pepe Escobar (30th October 2007) noted that 'General Yasar Bu[y]ukanit told NTV in Turkey that the military is essentially just waiting for Erdogan's green light', but, as the Turkish Daily News (14th June 2007) had much earlier reported,
[Prime Minister] Erdoğan openly opposed this idea saying, "There are 500 terrorists in Iraq; there are 5,000 terrorists inside Turkey. Has terrorism inside Turkey ended for us to think about an operation in northern Iraq?"
As Mustafa Kibaroğlu said, '[e]ven though he corrected himself... to "1,500 PKK terrorists in Turkey and 3,500 in northern Iraq," Erdogan has seemingly achieved his goal by launching a preemptive strike on the military'.

Moreover, as Birand observed, 'we've known for months that the PKK has vacated the Kandil region to a great extent.... If you were a PKK member, would you have remained on the Kandil mountain after all this talk?' (Gordon Taylor (19th October 2007), too, made this point.) It comes back to Birand's point that what Turkey can do, won't do much, militarily; (in my opinion) it will either be a sound-and-light show for domestic consumption, or a strike against the Iraqi Kurdish community, or both.

When asked what the US military was going to do to combat the PKK in northern Iraq, Major General Benjamin Mixon replied, '[a]bsolutely nothing'. Still, other officials proffered 'air strikes' and 'intelligence, lots of intelligence'.

Joshua W. Walker (8th November 2007) considered that 'President Bush should be particularly concerned.... The last time that Turkey exhausted its diplomatic options and decided to act unilaterally was in 1974 following then-Prime Minister Ecevit[']s fruitless visit to London concerning Cyprus'.

Then again, Walker opined that 'Turkey holds the cards where the US is concerned in Iraq', when just the day before, Turkish comic Uykusuz had as its front cover George W. Bush lying on his back in the Oval Office, holding Recep Tayyip Erdoğan aloft with one arm out in front as Erdoğan cried, 'heyooo!... I'm Superman... Superman! Ditdiri diiitt!' before Bush pleaded, 'get down quick kid! I think someone's coming...'(15)

Aside from the previous twenty-four incursions, we have seen these "will-they-won't-they?" games before - just last year, in fact. Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) (19th July 2006) reported that '[t]he Turkish General Staff, which commands the Turkish armed forces, has drawn up plans for sending up to 50,000 troops into northern Iraq to "destroy bases used by guerillas from the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK)"' and Michael Howard (18th August 2006) relayed that 'Turkey and Iran have dispatched tanks, artillery and thousands of troops to their frontiers with Iraq... in what appears to be a coordinated effort to disrupt the activities of Kurdish rebel bases'.

So, they appear to be marching their men - and with them, the public - up to the top of the hill and marching them down again. Both the military and the government (who, judged by the presidential elections, govern with a greater majority since public military intimidation) are trying to use the public to force the other to fall in line. The problem they both face is knowing how far they can march them up before they cannot march them back down again, how far they can go before they lose control of the public.

[Updated on the 24th of December 2007.]

Yesterday, Bloomberg's Steve Bryant reported that,
Turkey bombed and shelled Kurdish militants in neighboring northern Iraq [on Saturday the 22nd of December] in the third of a series of cross-border attacks in the past week that the armed forces say have killed hundreds of fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK....

While it's impossible to count exactly how many PKK fighters have died, ``it's a fact that hundreds of terrorists'' were killed since the attacks began, the military said....

"The prospect of a stronger intervention is actually a negative" for the lira, Elisabeth Gruie, an emerging-markets currency strategist at BNP Paribas SA in London, said on Dec. 21. "Investors don't want to see a country in a war situation."
Forbes' C. Onur Ant relayed that,
military jets pummeled the area with fresh attacks on Sunday [the 23rd of December].... A spokesman for security forces in the Kurdish-run region, Jabar Yawar, said the jets bombed an area about 50 miles north of Irbil near the border with Turkey for about an hour and a half. He said there were no civilian casualties because the area was deserted for fear of Turkish attacks.
Roj TV (via Özgür Gündem, via Mizgin), however, countered, '[i]şte sivil katliam görüntüleri [behold the images of civilian slaughter]', broadcasting what appears to be an elderly village woman killed in the attack, livestock maimed and buildings destroyed.
  1. Hürriyet, 01/06/07: "Büyükanıt hints military action against both PKK, Barzani, in N. Iraq".
  2. Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Turkish daily News, 20/10/07: "Why Turkish 'strategists' are unmistakably wrong".
  3. Metin Çetingüleç, Takvim, 23/10/07: "O tebessüm" - my emphases and my translation. The original text reads:
    CHP lideri Baykal, dün Cumhurbaşkanı Gül'le görüştükten sonra şunu söyledi: "Sadece teröristler değil, terörü himaye edenler de cezalandırılmalı..." Baykal'ın sözleri, devletin zirvesinden aldığı sinyalin yansımasıdır....

    Artık Türkiye bir şeyden emin. Barzani ve Talabani cezalandırılmadan yapılacak bir sınır ötesi operasyon işe yaramayacak. Sadece nokta hedefleri vurarak sorunu çözmek mümkün değil.
  4. The Turkish Daily News also carried a translated version of this article, edited to make sense to foreign readers.
  5. Turkish Daily News, 24/10/07, 4: "Time they pay, says Bahçeli" - my emphases.
  6. al-Jazeera, 27/10/07: "Turkey-Iraq talks on PKK 'fail'".
  7. Annette Grossbongardt and Bernhard Zand, der Spiegel, 29/10/07: "Searching for an exit on the highway to war".
  8. Cengiz Çandar, Turkish Daily News, 02/11/07: "Atmosphere in Ankara".
  9. Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, 07/11/07: "Turkish-bred prosperity makes war less likely in Iraqi Kurdistan".
  10. Yusuf Kanli, Turkish Daily News, 10/10/07: "Some wise words from Baykal".
  11. Iraqi Kurd Peshmerga who have themselves fought the PKK agreed with my friend's friend that the Turkish Armed Forces would not be able to penetrate the mountains.
  12. I "corrected" our use of dialect - saying "bi" for "bir", "kazanmacak" for "kazanmayacak", etc. Their Turkish is fluent, mine is not - whatever of that was broken, it was broken by me.
  13. Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı.
  14. Jandarma İstihbarat ve Terörle Mücadele.
  15. Erdoğan: 'Heyooo!... Süpermen oldum... Süpermen! Dıtdırı dıııtt!'
    Bush: 'Oğlum in çabuk! Biri geliyo galiba...'

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