After days of a military offensive against the Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, Turkey consented to withdraw its troops, in what appears to be a strategy to gain Washington’s trust and ensure that Ankara will have the possibility to carry out new, characteristically similar offensives (limited in scope and duration) in the near future. However, the Kurdish question will not be resolved until Turkey changes its mentality and puts policy before force when making decisions related to national security, states the author.
(From Ankara) TURKEY HAS PUT AN END to a cross-border military operation in northern Iraq that has left 267 dead, the majority of whom were members of the armed group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The offensive lasted only eight days; as such, under no circumstances would Ankara have been able to achieve its objective of annihilating the bases of the Kurdish insurgents in the region.
The sudden retreat of the 10,000 Turkish soldiers that had crossed the border on February 21 was a response to pressure exerted by the United States, which (with the European Union’s permission) is Turkey’s principal international ally. This much can be deduced when it is taken into account that the retreat took place a few hours after President George W. Bush demanded that the operation end right then and there.
AN AGREED UPON EXIT?
“It is not convenient for the United States that Turkey is able to act as they please in a stable region run by the very same Kurds that helped Washington during the 2003 invasion” Nevertheless, Turkish analysts like Cengiz Çandar are going one step further and claiming that the Turkish army’s exit had been engineered by Washington and Ankara in an agreement made prior to the incursion. With the fulfillment of the deal, the Euro-Asian country has won the confidence of the United States and ensured that it will have the possibility to carry out new, characteristically similar offensives (limited in scope and duration) in the near future.
In fact, what will most likely happen is that, when spring has arrived and the mountain snow has melted, Turkish troops will once again penetrate Iraqi Kurdistan. The armed forces have parliament’s permission (which expires next October) to come and go in Iraq whenever they deem it necessary. “With its unilateral and disproportionate military action, Turkey would be giving Brussels more reason to doubt whether or not it should admit a country that solves its problems by taking the armed route”
It is not convenient for the United States that Turkey is able to act as they please in a region that, aside from being one of the most stable and prosperous ones in Iraq, is run by the very same Kurds that helped Washington during the 2003 invasion. Because of this, the Americans have allowed (and will probably continue to allow) Ankara to carry out specific cross-border operations, on the condition they not be large scale, and always have Washington’s approval.
What we have here is a compromise solution, and although it allows the United States to please its Turkish partner, it is not risk-free, given that a destabilization of the entire region should not be ruled out. This is not the first time that Turkish troops have entered Iraq with the purpose of fighting the PKK: they did the same thing in 1992, 1995 and 1997. However, Saddam Hussein was in power in those years, not an Iraqi leader with ties to the United States, as is now the case.
A DEMONSTRATION OF STRENGTH
Nonetheless, Turkey’s situation remains the same: “Turkey has always seen the Kurdish problem as an anti-terrorist issue. Therefore, it has turned to its armed forces for the solution” That is, there is a semi-autonomous government in northern Iraq that, with the help of the PKK and a booming economy based on subsoil oil resources, could declare an independent Kurdistan. Such a scenario would exacerbate the separatism of the 12 million Kurds who live in Turkey (mostly in the east and southeast) even more, which would surely pave the way for a civil war.
Therefore, the Turkish cross-border military operations continue to be a demonstration of strength, a blatant sign that Turkey will not tolerate any nonsense whatsoever. The paradoxical thing is that, with its unilateral and disproportionate military action, Turkey could be accelerating the entire process. Besides, it would be giving Brussels more reason to doubt whether or not it should admit a country that solves its problems by taking the armed route. “It would be advisable for the international community to keep Turkey’s belligerency in check with political and economic sanctions”
Whatever the case may be, Turkey has always seen the Kurdish problem as an anti-terrorist issue. Therefore, it has turned to its armed forces for the solution and rejected any type of political negotiation, from granting the Kurds special status to broadening the autonomy of the municipalities in the south-eastern part of the country.
Doing such a thing (at least according to Turkey’s peculiar conception of nationalism) would constitute the first step towards dissolving the country’s unity, a basic and inviolable principle of the philosophy imposed nearly a century ago by the Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,.
ALTERNATIVES TO THE MILITARY ROUTE
“Terrorism is an unacceptable evil, and Turkey has all the right in the world to fight it, but the country should also look for alternative, non-violent routes” As such, the Kurdish question will not be resolved until Turkey changes its mentality and politicians have more say than the military when decisions having to do with national security are made.
Similarly, it would be advisable for the international community, with the United States leading the way, to not only condemn Turkey’s belligerency, but to also keep it in check with political and economic sanctions. Until then, Ankara will continue to unleash a total war against the PKK, both in its own territory and on Iraqi soil, where there an estimated 4,000 Kurdish insurgents.
Terrorism is an unacceptable evil, and Turkey has all the right in the world to fight it, but the country should also look for alternative, non-violent routes. In this sense, an excellent start would be to adopt measures aimed at combating the east and southeast’s economic underdevelopment problem from the root, as well as guaranteeing the full recognition of the Kurdish identity, language, and culture.