Sunday, October 28, 2007

Turkey Hesitates on Kurdistan Incursion

The Los Angeles Times reports that Turkey is facing intense political pressure from nationalists to launch a military raid striking at Kurdish rebels treatening the country. Here's the introduction:

The Turkish government is coming under enormous domestic pressure to crush Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, but even as rebel positions are shelled and tens of thousands of troops moved to the border, leaders are reluctant to invade, fearing international isolation and a military quagmire.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would prefer to avoid a full-scale invasion, according to people familiar with his thinking, and is pursuing diplomatic options. His government is also considering using economic leverage by rerouting valuable trade away from Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdistan region, where the Turkish Kurd rebels have found safe harbor.

On Friday, Turkey warned that its "patience has run out" and demanded that Iraq extradite rebel leaders.

Erdogan and his government want to show they are exhausting diplomatic options while waving the military threat, the sources say, because they expect international scorn if Turkey is seen as having opened a battlefront in the only relatively peaceful part of Iraq.

"You can lessen the public pressure with an all-out invasion, but it would be a short-term gain," Turkish military expert Lale Sariibrahimoglu said. "The government and the armed forces are well aware of the repercussions. This is a serious test of democracy and diplomacy."

Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, Turkey's top military commander, was quoted Friday by private broadcaster NTV as saying that the government would wait until Erdogan returns from a Nov. 5 visit with President Bush before deciding whether to launch a military offensive into Iraq.

An invasion also risks dragging Turkey into a quagmire that would play into the hands of Turkish nationalists keen to undermine the pro-Islamic government. Some of the loudest war drums are being beaten by extreme nationalists with a certain sway in parliament and who would no doubt raise their voices further if a military effort proved ineffective.

And experience makes it clear that swift success is by no means guaranteed.

The separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, survived repeated attacks by Turkey in the 1990s, its members hiding safely in the rugged mountain terrain on the Iraqi side of the border. And with winter coming, the chances of a decisive Turkish victory are even bleaker.

For days, tens of thousands of Turkish troops have been massing along the 200-mile southern border with Iraq, and commandos have entered several miles into Iraq in hot pursuit of rebels. Combat helicopters and F-16 fighter planes daily attack suspected guerrilla hide-outs and escape routes.

At the same time, Turkey is feverishly pursuing diplomatic solutions, looking especially to Baghdad and Washington to uproot the PKK and stop its violence. The Turkish foreign minister rushed to Baghdad; an Iraqi delegation arrived in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Thursday for crisis talks that were to continue today; and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to visit Turkey next week.

In a TV interview Friday, Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq's Kurdistan regional government, accused Turkey of seeking a pretext to mount a major assault in the area. "The PKK is a justification," Barzani told Al Arabiya satellite channel. "The goal is to stop or hamper the growth of Kurdistan region."

The latest Turkish military action is in response to an ambush Sunday in which the PKK killed 12 soldiers and captured eight in southern Turkey, about three miles from the border with Iraq. But hostilities along the remote border have been building for months.

Each day since the ambush, thousands of Turks have taken to the streets across the nation to demand tough military action. The clamor became so intense that the government attempted to restrict television coverage of the soldiers' funerals and crying mothers.

And Friday, mosques were instructed to read a sermon calling for brotherhood and discouraging citizens from disunity.

The public outcry almost always goes hand in hand with a pitched fury of anti-U.S. sentiments; many Turks are convinced that America is aiding the PKK, or at the least turning a blind eye to rebel activities -- charges Washington denies.

The U.S. maintains that its troops in Iraq are already stretched thin and cannot sustain a significant presence in largely peaceful Iraqi Kurdistan. U.S. officials are demanding that Iraqi authorities crack down on the PKK, but the Iraqis have not done so.

On Friday, Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, said he planned to do "absolutely nothing" to counter PKK activity, and that he was neither tracking the rebels' movements nor reinforcing the military presence in the region. Mixon, speaking to Pentagon reporters by videoconference, also said he had not seen Iraqi Kurdish authorities acting against the guerrillas.
Read the whole thing. I've had doubts about predictions of a Turkish strike on the rebels. Turkey's interests are in not alienating the U.S., and it has a diplomatic stake in seeing larger developments in the Middle East unfold before acting decisively against the PKK. Such facts completely escape hardline leftists intent to see Turkey's pursuit of its national interests as one more sign of the Bush administration's evil incompetence.