IRAQ: US backs Turkey's threats against Kurds

Issue 

BY NORM DIXON

In recent months, Turkish government and military leaders have repeatedly threatened to invade northern Iraq to prevent Iraqi Kurds creating an "independent state" in the aftermath of Washington's planned war on Iraq.

Even though US President George Bush regularly cites the Iraqi dictatorship's oppression of the Kurds as a reason for "regime change" and the Kurdish factions that control northern Iraq are considered allies of the US, Washington has made it clear that it too will oppose Iraqi Kurds exercising their right to national self-determination.

Turkey will be a key ally of the US in an attack on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime. Its air bases are central to US war plans and its territory is also likely to be used as a staging ground for US special forces and ground troops.

US warplanes used Turkey's Incirlik airbase extensively during the 1991 Gulf War bombing blitz. The "no-fly zone" over northern Iraq, which has been in place since mid-1991, is enforced by US and British warplanes that operate from Incirlik.

Turkey's politically powerful military brass are fiercely opposed to an independent Kurdish state or genuinely autonomous province in a federal Iraq because they fear this could incite similar demands from their own 15-million strong oppressed Kurdish minority in Turkey's south-west.

The no-fly zone over northern Iraq has prevented Iraq from maintaining military control of the region. In October 1991, Baghdad withdrew all government personnel and services.

Autonomy

To Ankara's chagrin, this has allowed the region — divided between areas controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) — to develop a degree of political and economic autonomy. Between them, the KDP and PUK control three of Iraq's 18 provinces, in which around 3.5 million of Iraq's 22 million people live.

The two Kurdish administrations run their own schools, health clinics, currency, police and armies. There is even a Kurdistan Olympic Committee. Compared to the rest of Iraq, the Kurdish region is relatively prosperous as it receives more funds from the United Nations food-for-oil program per head of population.

Ankara's angst has increased as the KDP and PUK have moved to consolidate their control of Iraqi Kurdistan in readiness for a post-Hussein Iraq. On October 2, KDP leader Massoud Barzani and the PUK's Jalal Talabani met and agreed to normalise relations between the formerly bitter rivals (the factions fought a bloody civil war in 1994, which cost 1000 lives before Iraqi Kurdistan was divided into separately ruled cantons).

On October 4, Iraqi Kurdistan's parliament met in KDP-run Erbil, the region's largest city. For the first time since 1994, representatives of both the KDP and PUK attended. The fusion of the KDP and PUK administrations and armies was discussed.

The parliament also endorsed a constitution for an autonomous Kurdish province within a federated Iraq. Despite these moves, both the KDP and PUK state openly that they are opposed to an independent Kurdistan.

Most controversially, the Kurdish parliament designated Kirkuk as the province's capital and included the city of Mosul within its boundaries. The rich oilfields near Kirkuk and Mosul would provide the new Kurdish province with much-needed income. Presently, both Kirkuk and Mosul remain under the control of Baghdad.

Rosch Shawais, speaker of the Kurdish parliament, told Associated Press on October 21 that Iraqi Kurdistan was entitled to at least 25% of Iraqi oil revenues, compared to the current 13% that is allocated to it by the UN.

'Pushed toward war'

On October 1, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, in an interview published in the Hurriyet newspaper, warned: "Many steps have already been taken toward the establishment of a separate state. Turkey cannot accept this to be taken further."

Ecevit told the October 13 Milliyet newspaper that the Iraqi Kurds were "pushing us to war" and accused the US of "directing" the Iraqi Kurds towards independence. "We will talk to the United States" to prevent that, Ecevit said.

Turkish defence minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu, speaking on Turkish TV on October 14, declared that Turkey would "under no circumstances" accept the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Turkey would take the "necessary steps" to prevent such a state, Cakmakoglu said. "Kirkuk as the capital of the Kurdish formation is unacceptable", the minister added. Turkey admits to having around 3000 troops deployed inside northern Iraq, supposedly to fight Kurdish guerrillas who may launch raids into Turkey.

However, Turkish newspapers reported on October 17-18 that troop numbers have been quietly boosted to around 12,000. It has also been reported that all leave for Turkish troops and reserves has been cancelled. On October 18, Barzani called for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Iraqi Kurdistan.

More recently, Ankara has begun to claim its military presence is needed to defend the Turkish-speaking ethnic minority group in Kurdistan and around Kirkuk, the Turkomans. Against all evidence, Turkey claims that Kirkuk is not a majority Kurdish city but is mainly populated by Turkomans.

Of course, the real reason is that Turkey's rulers do not want the creation of a viable Kurdish state. "Turkey will not tolerate the Kurds controlling the oilfields because that will give them economic power, which will lead them to independence", bluntly stated retired Turkish general Armagan Kuloglu in the October 25 Los Angeles Times. Kuloglu is openly advocating the Turkish seizure of Kirkuk and northern Iraq.

Turkish nationalists have also long claimed that Kirkuk and Mosul — which were once part of the Ottoman empire — and their valuable oil reserves rightfully belong to Turkey.

US backs Turkey

General Tommy Franks, head of the US military's central command, and General Joseph Ralston, US supreme commander in Europe, visited Turkey on October 21 to discuss Turkey's role in the US attack with his Turkish counterparts and government ministers.

After meeting Franks, Turkey's foreign minister Sukru Sin Gurel told the US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on October 23 that "[Turkey] will be cooperating with the US in the future as we did in the past in order to create better conditions for peace and security in the wide region [where] Turkey and the United States are both active".

The October 22 Washington Post reported that "Washington may recruit Turkey to police the flow of refugees and guard prisoners of war ... The plan would require Turkey to increase its military presence in Iraq by thousands of troops, Western diplomats and Turkish officials say."

Turkey's state-run Anatolian news agency reported on October 21 that the US administration was preparing a package of aid measures and trade concession that could be worth up to US$6 billion. Turkey is also asking the US to cover its financial costs of participation in war. Washington is prepared to use its influence on Ankara's behalf to secure new International Monetary Fund loans and Turkey's entry into the European Union.

Cakmakoglu told PBS that Turkey had sought an assurance that the US would not allow "any kind of new arrangement for the Kurds" in northern Iraq.

On October 23, State Department deputy spokesperson Philip Reeker, when asked about the chances of the Iraqi Kurds declaring a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, replied, "We strongly support the territorial integrity of Iraq and oppose the establishment of a Kurdish state". Reeker added that this is "always made quite clear" in discussions with Turkey.

Rather than turn to its Kurdish and Shiite opposition "allies" to provide a replacement for Hussein, the US State Department and CIA have been cultivating exiled Iraqi military defectors who claim to have contacts with senior military figures inside Iraq. Washington hopes they can ferment a coup against Hussein during or after a US invasion of Iraq.

One of Washington's goals is to maintain a strong central government in Iraq and to prevent the Kurds or Shiites winning greater power. The Iraqi military is the only force that can achieve that. As the October 6 Washington Post admitted: "Although US officials have talked of instituting a democratic government in Baghdad, many intelligence officials believe that a military-led coup could help keep Iraq together and avoid moves towards separation that could come from its three major ethnic groups."

From Green Left Weekly, November 6, 2002.

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