Iraq: Washington backs Turkish invasion

February 29, 2008

"Turkish fighter jets, helicopters and hundreds of commandos streamed across the border into northern Iraq Wednesday despite Iraqi and American calls to swiftly end an operation to root out Kurdish insurgents", Associated Press reported on February 27.

AP added that "US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said before departing for Turkey that he will tell officials there that the six-day assault must not last longer than a week or two. It was the first time that Gates, who said that Turkey must be 'mindful of Iraqi sovereignty', put any time limit on the incursion."

The Turkish general staff announced on February 22 that its troops had entered northern Iraq the previous evening to wipe out suspected Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) bases. The statement did not provide figures on the size of the invading Turkish ground force, but according to Turkish television, 10,000 troops were taking part in the "incursion".

Branded a terrorist organisation by Ankara and Washington, the PKK has waged an on-and-off guerrilla war against the Turkish army and police since 1984, seeking autonomy for Turkey's largely Kurdish-inhabited south-eastern region. According to the CIA's World Fact Book website, Kurds make up 20% of Turkey's 70 million inhabitants.

The PKK has an estimated 3500 guerrilla fighters in numerous camps in the mountains of Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region, and enjoys widespread sympathy among Iraq's 4-5 million Kurds.

Asked by reporters in Washington on February 22 what the US government's attitude to the Turkish invasion was, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: "This is something that we were aware of in advance, and, as you know, the US agrees with Turkey that the PKK is a terrorist organisation and is an enemy of Turkey, Iraq and the United States."

The February 23 Washington Post reported that the "US military has been sharing intelligence [with Ankara] to help target rebel positions". Since late last year, Turkey has been carrying out air strikes against alleged PKK positions in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Post also reported that officials of the pro-US Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) "said they have lived with the US-sanctioned [Turkish] bombing campaign against the rebels but feel the incursion is a violation of their sovereignty".

The KRG, which commands a 400,000-strong US-armed militia force known as the Peshmerga, issued a statement on February 23 saying that it "joins the federal Iraqi government in Baghdad in calling on Turkey to end its violation of Iraqi sovereignty. It is imperative that Turkey immediately withdraw its military forces from the Kurdistan region in Iraq.

"Turkey has sought a military solution to the problem of the PKK for 24 years. This approach has not worked; the problem can only be solved through dialogue and diplomacy."

Reuters reported on February 27 that after talks with US officials in Iraq, including top US military commander General David Petraeus, Turkish envoy Ahmet Davutoglu told a February 26 Baghdad press conference that Ankara had "no timetable" to withdraw its troops. "Our objective is clear, our mission is clear and there is no timetable until … those terrorist bases are eliminated", he said.

Barham Saleh, the acting PM in Washington's puppet Iraqi government, pleaded with Ankara to end its assault on Iraqi Kurdistan, telling the press conference that "it's dangerous to the stability of Iraq and the region as a whole".

The next day's Wall Street Journal warned that a "prolonged Turkish incursion into Iraq, or significant damage to Iraqi Kurd villages, threatens to draw in Iraqi Kurdish fighters. That would pit two vital US allies against each other, complicating America's already tough diplomatic maneuvering over Iraq and risking a wider, regional conflict."

An editorial in the February 27 Kurdish Globe called on the KRG to mobilise the Kurdish nation to resist the Turkish invasion. The KRG's "Peshmerga forces must confront Turkish troops and the Kurdish nation as a whole must be called to rise against [the] Turkish invasion", the editorial said.

It argued that the Turkish operation was "the first stage for a wider invasion of south Kurdistan", adding: "The Turkish discourse of 'fighting against terrorism' or 'destroying PKK bases' is a mere excuse for the Turkish establishment to prevent both the formation of Kurdish nationhood and political stability in south Kurdistan."

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