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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Iraqis propose an American tripwire along the Turk border

The Turks rejected this Iraqi offer (made without US endorsement.)
The Iraqis proposed positioning American soldiers in border forts in the Qandil Mountains, a jagged area that has never been fully under the control of any government. Although American military officials were part of the delegation taking part in the meetings, it was unclear what role, if any, the military might ultimately agree to.

Look, the PKK knows those mountains inside and out. A small scattering of US posts would have no effect on the small scale infiltrations the PKK are making. The only real purpose a token US presence would have is to act as a tripwire for a much larger, and much more heavily equipped Turkish force coming the other way.

What would a small US "border fort" do when a convoy of 50,000 Turks came rolling through the pass? It's so nice of the Iraqis to volunteer us to stand in the way.

Here's the reality,
Meanwhile, a senior American general in Iraq played down the chances of any new American military commitment in the conflict. The officer, Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, the top American commander in northern Iraq, said that he had no plans to order his troops to confront Kurdish rebels in the mountains.

The general, speaking to reporters in Washington over a video link from Iraq, was asked what American forces plan to do about fighters of the P.K.K.

“Absolutely nothing,” he responded.

The US military will do nothing. The Baghdad government can do nothing. The Kurdish government is offering the PKK protection and tacit support, and a Turkish operation, because of the terrain and Kurdish support on both sides of the border, would be nearly impossible.

(AFP) The threat of a Turkish military strike on Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq grew Saturday after crisis talks with an Iraqi delegation failed to satisfy Ankara.

(Reuters) Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan took a swipe at western countries on Saturday for not helping Turkey fight the PKK, criticizing what he called an approach of "your terrorist is good, my terrorist is bad."

"We want to see our western friends by our side in our fight against terror," he told a conference in Istanbul. "Those who overlook terrorism are in cooperation with terrorism."

(Supposedly, (WaPo) the Turks have committed to hold off any cross border operations until PM Erdogan meets with Bush on Nov. 5, but what could Bush offer that is not already on the table?

And, I hadn't noticed that the special Turk/Kurd envoy Joseph Ralston had resigned his post "recently" out of frustration at a lack of support. I'd be very curious on the timing. Was it his resignation that ignited this?)

12 Comments:

  • In early September, a poll of the Turkish public showed that 85% hold an "unfavourable" opinion of the U.S.

    With the recent election of a nominally islamist prime minister in Turkey, the military is placed in a precarious situation. They have felt compelled to intervene and remove leaders in the past who were not "secular" enough.

    The current situation is a perfect storm. The Turkish civilian government can capitalise on the anti-American sentiment, and the military can appear as being on the same page as the prime minister. The more Bush tries to restrain Turkey, the more they have to gain by defying him. Turkey is already steaming mad over Israel violating their airspace in the Syrian bombing. They are itching for the chance to at least be seen as independent from Bush.

    Everyone but the Kurds always knew Bush would betray them. Our Arab allies realised years ago that everything Bush promised them was a lie.

    If Bush was smart (and he isn't), he would stage some phony air strikes against alleged PKK bases, and then orchestrate some Kurdish public outrage at the U.S. He would then tell Turkey that the U.S. wouldn't stand for any PKK activity in Iraq, and tell Kurdistan that they should learn to accept that. He could then peddle an entirely contrary lie to the Kurds in private. Turkey would be seen as dictating terms to the powerful U.S. and the Kurds would be able to remain friends with the U.S. Everybody smiles.

    Again, this is in some hypothetical world where Bush is smart.

    By Blogger Todd Dugdale, at 7:20 PM  

  • Okay, I see your argument on the Turkish side, but the problem is that a Turkish incursion is likely to be some degree of a disaster. The Kurds have been planning for this for years, and they have the population and the terrain on both sides of the border.

    With the Turkish mood what it is, stoking the fires makes an incursion inevitable, and what happens to those powers if they lose (or fail to win) against an enemy of 3,000?

    As to your Bush plan, I see your logic, but you're assuming that the Kurdish leaders would play along.

    There is some evidence that the Kurdish leaders are quietly backing the PKK efforts, and the PKK is trying to provoke Turkey. The Kurds are in about as good a position as they could hope for to start this, what with the US needing them for the Iraqi government. If they want to start the Kurdish independence wars, this is their near term window.

    Frankly, I see the PKK, and indirectly the Kurds, as the ones choosing this time to fight. They're the ones who keep provoking.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 9:27 PM  

  • Good thoughts. Two points, however.

    Turkey doesn't need to "win" against Kurdistan or occupy it. All they need to do is keep the PKK away from their borders and assert their right to self-defence.

    Second, Turkey has a powerful air force - we provided them with it, after all. Not only can they hit the PKK with air strikes, they can move troops, supplies, and equipment around with relative ease. Without having to occupy and defend ground, this is an enviable position to be in.

    If Turkey does fail, the result would likely be movement away from the U.S. and regional Kurdish unrest. Hizbollah fought the powerful Israeli military to a standstill in Lebanon with roughly the same arms, but again in that case Israel was trying to hold and occupy territory.

    You are right that evidence points to Kurdish support of the PKK, and that the PKK is trying to provoke Turkey. They apparently believe that they can precipitate a Turkish quagmire. I wouldn't place my bets on the Kurds, but they aren't asking my opinion, either. The PKK can provoke all they want, but Turkey still has the first move. Realistically, Turkey doesn't need any provocation at this point; they have the go-ahead.

    I also think that Bush doesn't really need the Kurds badly enough to go against Ankara's plans. It's clear that Iraq will remain a mess when he leaves office; it's only a matter of degree now. A failed Kurd state would make the disaster complete.

    By Blogger Todd Dugdale, at 2:18 AM  

  • Since we're arguing, I agree with your statement about the Turks needing to win, but what I was trying to get at is the near impossibility of counterinsurgency within a population that sympathizes with the terrorists.

    The Turks could establish a massive presence in Kurdistan, they could "win" the territory, but that doesn't mean they would stop the attacks, you know?

    Second, I agree about the Turks air force. The only question I would have is whether the US allows them true free reign. I really can't imagine the US shooting at Turkish planes, but at the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if there's some agreement to limit the air presence to helicopters and low air support.

    The helicopters would make a tremendous difference both in movement and mobile weapons platform, but again I keep coming back to the US/Soviet experience in Afghanistan.

    The Turks will be able to kill/capture the current PKK. The real question to me is whether the PKK will find replenishment from the Kurdish population.

    I think that would be the key to whether this is a contained operation (effective,) or the beginning of a counterinsurgency (the draining war the Kurds seem to be seeking.)

    The Turks have a good military, but if they're smart, they get in, hit, and get out. I don't think they win if they try to hold the ground.

    ....

    (By the way, I'm really enjoying this exchange.)

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 8:20 AM  

  • Something is going on between Turkey and Israel too...

    http://www.turkishweekly.net/news.php?id=49826

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:39 AM  

  • Yeah, I'm assuming that's a repeat of the old reporting. (from 2004?)

    My impression at the time was there was an Israeli "contractor" working with the Kurds on training.

    The story was (as repeated here) that these actions were not sanctioned by the Israeli government, but the top Israelis in Iraq were ex defense with links to the IDF.

    I would guess that this is being reprinted to tap into anti-Israeli sentiment to conjoin that with the current anger at the Kurds.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 9:01 AM  

  • Right. Time for an update on the situation from Seymour Hersch I think.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:12 AM  

  • Now that you mention it, I think he was the first US source for this story (although I think he used a more inflammatory "former IDF personnel" rather than contractor.)

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 9:14 AM  

  • Hersch in the New Yorker I think...

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3829413.stm

    Anyway it was 'total fabrications'.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:24 AM  

  • That's the same Talabani who said there are no PKK camps in Iraq?

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 12:20 PM  

  • Mike, I think we agree far more than we disagree on this issue.

    The U.S./Turkish alliance is a relic of the Cold War, and its relevance is fading fast in practical terms. Russia now offers Turkey everything that we offer, minus the insistence that Turkey back whatever stupid thing Israel does. The bottom line is that our influence over the Turks is mostly wishful thinking.

    I think we also would agree that the Iraqi Kurds consider themselves to be Kurds first and Iraqis a distant second. In fact, this is the case with every ethnic division in Iraq, since it was an artificial construct held together by force from the outset. Thus, Talibani and Barzani are far more interested in covering their asses with the Kurds than they are in representing the interests of Iraq. The long-standing rivalry between Talibani and Barzani is becoming subsumed in the common threat of Turkey. The U.S. is only interested in the Kurds inasmuch as they are Iraqis, so our influence is marginal on that side as well.

    WRT to the Afghan analogy, I would only point out that the mujahadeen were backed by (and essentially proxies of) a superpower (us). The Kurds are largely on their own in this case. We certainly don't want to be seen as backing Kurdish nationalist or separatist sentiment in the region. At best, we are an irrelevance.

    As long as the Turks refrain from taking and annexing Iraqi territory, we are no more bothered by them "cleaning up" Kurdistan than we are by allying ourselves with basically terrorist militias throughout Iraq in order to quell terrorist militias that do not back our interests.

    I am not defending this situation, merely laying it out as impartially as I am able.

    By Blogger Todd Dugdale, at 1:09 PM  

  • Definitely. The only real gaps I see is that I seem to believe there's more of a Turkish/Kurdish governing authority element than you do. I see the Turks looking at a future Kurdistan a a significant longterm agitation/threat.

    Interesting point you make about Talabani and Barzani, Barzani seems to be staking out the more militant ground.

    I agree on the Afghan analogy (I was referring more to the current US experience there,) but it's the only real geographic analogy that most people are familiar with of rebels in mountains.

    Last, We're analyzing here. There is no real right or wrong in this mess. Every side has a claim.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 5:56 PM  

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