Monday, July 23, 2007

Turkey, Northern Iraq & the US Military

The Independent reports that Turkey has stepped back from the idea of invading Northern Iraq:

As Turkey's government savoured an overwhelming electoral victory yesterday, regional analysts agreed that the immediate impetus for an invasion of northern Iraq had receded.

Sunday's clear mandate for the Islamic-rooted AKP of the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been received as a snub to his secularist and nationalist opponents, who put the fight against Kurdish separatist guerrillas across the border at the centre of their failed campaign.

The US military has continually denied reports that Turkey has massed over 100,000 troops on the Iraq border while one general is now raising the possibility of moving US troops out of Northern Iraq and placing the entire region in the hands of the Iraqi government.

If put in place, Mixon's approach would not necessarily mean an overall reduction in U.S. troops early next year. It could mean shifting several thousand troops from Mixon's area to other parts of Iraq for some months.

That, however, could mark the beginning of a phased move away from the heavy combat role U.S. troops have played, at a cost of more than 3,600 U.S. deaths, for more than four years. That, in turn, could lead to the first substantial U.S. troop reductions beginning in the spring or summer — a far slower timetable than many in Congress are demanding.
There are nearly 24,000 U.S. troops in Mixon's area of responsibility. It stretches north from Baghdad to the Turkish border, including the semiautonomous Kurdish region where three provinces — Dahuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniyah — already have returned to Iraqi government control.

Mixon said he might be able to reduce that total by one-half in the 12 to 18 months after beginning a transition in January.

But, via The Guardian, it's obvious that things aren't quite that simple:

It remains to be seen if the mandate will quickly dissolve the air of crisis that has enveloped Turkey in recent months.

The possible threat of a coup, deadlock between government and opposition over a new head of state, pressure for a military invasion of northern Iraq to crack down on Turkish Kurdish guerrillas sheltering there, poor relations with the US over Iraq, and near-paralysis in Turkey's efforts to negotiate membership of the EU - all these are issues piling up in the in-tray.

The multiple challenges have produced an outpouring of extreme nationalism, resulting in the parliamentary presence of the MHP, widely viewed as neo-fascist, with a paramilitary wing. Its leader campaigned with a hangman's noose, his preferred solution to the Kurdish insurgency in the south-east.

And, just as a side note, one army colonel who commented about repositioning US troops from al Anbar province said, "The police are the keys to maintaining security from al-Qaida," - interesting since many people like me believe that al Qaeda should have been dealt with from a police standpoint to begin with.

So, has the US government already received assurances from Turkey's government that its troops will stay out of Iraq or is the US military planning a pullout to avoid being trapped in that front of the war? Hard to say. Of course, considering how the so-called "surge" is working out, it's also possible that these redeployments to other areas of Iraq are just another move in the huge whack-a-mole game strategery they're now employing.

According to the Turkish Weekly, Turkey's PM warned before the election that "if the talks fail with Maliki Turkey will be left with no other option but to act against the PKK in northern Iraq." And:

Erdogan said Turkey conveyed its concerns to the U.S. over reports that the Americans were suspected of supplying weapons to the PKK in northern Iraq. He said the Americans had explained that they too had detected that such weapons had found their way into the PKK arsenal and that their investigation showed this could have happened as a result of corruption involving some U.S. personnel.

Now, I'll note that I don't know the reputation of the Turkish Weekly but it also published this warning from Turkey's PM which shows there is definitely tension between Turkey and the US government:

"As a strategic ally we are extending support to you (the U.S.) whenever you confront terrorism and ask for help. Afghanistan is the biggest example of this. It is not right to adopt an approach discriminating as 'my terrorist is bad, your terrorist is good.' All terrorists are bad. And we need to form a joint platform for combat this. We have situated ourselves against terror wherever it is encountered because we suffer from it. The number of martyrs we have given to terror has exceeded 15,000. Just as how you have alarmed the world when the twin towers were hit, you should show the same participation and cooperation in this now. If you do not fulfill your responsibilities in this, we will have to do whatever it takes. And that 'whatever' is obvious," said Erdogan.

It seems there aren't many countries left that want to call America "friend" - not that Turkey has been a US sockpuppet since it refused to allow US troops deployments from its soil into Iraq when that war began.

So I guess the waiting game is on and there aren't any particularly clear indications from Turkey about what it will do to deal with attacks coming from inside Iraq.

Related: The big question: What are the implications of the Turkish election result?

More on the PKK reportedly using US weapons from the Chicago Tribune.

(h/t to JJB over at Marisacat's blog for the link to The Guardian's article.)

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