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Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The US Should Separate Turkey and the Kurds

In the policy paper I will soon be posting to this site on how to build a liberal and democratic Iraq, I make one of the hallmarks of the plan the permenant basing of US troops in the Kurdish controlled sections of Northern Iraq, to counterbalance the Turks and Iranians who are still entertaining the idea of overtly participating in Iraqi politics.

This report from Stratfor underscores the importance. Since it is subscriber's only, I am posting it in full.

Turkey and Iraqi Kurds: Tension and Detente
May 16, 2003

Summary: Several recent incidents suggest a Turkish-Kurdish detente. However, beneath the surface, Ankara's geopolitical concerns remain -- and a confrontation
between the two seems inevitable.

Analysis: Relations between Turkey and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) seem to be on the upswing, with several
events in recent weeks marking a seeming detente and the development of a working relationship.

On May 14, Turkey dispatched a Foreign Ministry delegation to northern Iraq, led by former Turkish Ambassador to Baghdad Selim Karaosmanoglu. The visit
followed a soft-spoken request from the Kurdish Parliament that Turkey withdraw troops from the region, as well as reports that Turkish energy companies had inked deals with the PUK to begin developing Iraq's northern oil fields -- indirect recognition of Kurdish sovereignty in northern Iraq.

On the surface, these incidents and statements point to an easing of tensions that could, in the long run, lead to a de facto -- if not formal -- peace between Turkey and Kurds in northern Iraq. The incidents, however, belie Ankara's determination to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq and the fundamental conflict between the two groups. While working together on some surface issues, tensions between Ankara and Arbil will continue -- and eventually could draw Washington into the conflict.

Turkey sees preventing an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq as necessary for protecting its national interests. There are approximately 12 million Kurds living in Turkey and an estimated 20 million in the region where Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran meet. Ankara fears that an independent Kurdistan in Iraqi territory would encourage a separatist movement inside Turkey proper. However, Ankara has been limited in its actions in northern Iraq since the end of the war by Washington's assurances that the status quo will continue; the U.S. military has refused to allow more Turkish forces into the region.

The seeming niceties between Turkey and the PUK and KDP have not redefined the fundamental distrust between the two. In fact, according to Stratfor sources within the Turkish government, the Turkish delegation sent to northern Iraq in effect issued an ultimatum to the Kurds.

The delegation warned that the Kurds should not try to convert Kirkuk and Mosul through "creeping Kurdish penetration" into the cities' local governments, community centers and businesses. It also warned the Kurds to stop demanding the withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Iraq and said that they should not rely on foreign sponsors -- a reference to the United States -- to support them in their opposition to Turkey. The delegation suggested that the Kurds turn to Ankara for their long-term survival.

By approaching the Kurds with a threatening tone, the delegation is trying to re-establish dominance in the region and plant doubt regarding the extent to which the Kurds can rely on the United States. The PUK and KDP both worked with the United States during the war, but Washington has been careful not to promise them an independent Kurdistan. Even so, both groups will look to the U.S. military as a counter to a Turkish military invasion. At the same time, Ankara has held back sending a massive military deployment to the region, due to fears of a clash with Washington.

Ankara hopes to whip up support for an expansion of Turkish military activities in northern Iraq by pointing to a guerrilla group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), also known as KADEK. The group operates in both northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey but has been largely inactive since the 1999 arrest of leader Abdullah Ocalan. The PKK recently warned that any attempt to disarm it would trigger a full-scale war. Turkey claims the PKK has about 5,000 guerrilla fighters living in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq.

After meeting with the Kurds in the north, the delegation headed to Baghdad to meet with U.S. officials. There, the Turks will ask for Washington's permission to expand operations targeting the PKK in northern Iraq. Any change in Turkey's role in the region would need at least a nod from the U.S. administration in Baghdad.

From Ankara's point of view, now is the time to act. The situation in northern Iraq has not solidified, and Turkey wants to change the situation before it becomes institutionalized in the Kurds' favor. Ankara, however, cannot act without the United States, and it is unclear -- despite Turkish claims to the contrary -- that Washington will abandon the Kurds any time soon.

The US must move fast to stabilize the region.