WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- A Turkish invasion of Iraq over the Kurdish separatist group based in the northern Iraq mountains highlights -- and risks escalating -- the tension between Washington and allies Turkey, Iraq and Iraq’s Kurds.
Turkey is mad at the United States for what it sees as the selective prosecution of the war on terrorism, among other reasons, and blames Iraq’s national government and the Kurdistan Regional Government for not stopping the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known by its initials PKK.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the PKK, recognized by Turkey and the United States as a terrorist organization, needs to be stopped. Turkey’s Parliament has authorized military action, and Erdogan says he has the right to act if no one else will.
The PKK has launched attacks in Turkey for decades, part of a struggle for more autonomy for Kurdish people, if not independence altogether. The most recent was Sunday when the Turkish military was ambushed and 17 soldiers were killed, 16 injured and eight kidnapped.
Washington and Baghdad are urging Ankara to hold off on an incursion. The United States and Europe both condemned the recent attack.
But Turkey’s government is feeling the pressure to act. Erdogan told The London Times there is “a serious wave of anti-Americanism” in Turkey, largely stoked by U.S. congressional legislation condemning the killing of Armenians during World War I.
The KRG says military action against the PKK has not worked in the past and wants a dialogue between Ankara and Irbil, at least, if not Baghdad and Washington at the table.
“We believe there is room for political, peaceful solution,” Falah Mustafa Bakir, the KRG foreign minister, said Friday in Washington during a U.S. diplomatic visit, adding the KRG would take military action against the PKK if it thought it would work.
He said the KRG has influence “only to an extent” over the PKK. The KRG says it has seen no proof that anyone based in Iraq is directly linked to planning or carrying out attacks in Turkey.
"However, if the conflict directly entangled us or the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, we will definitely defend ourselves," Barzani said Sunday.
Qubad Talabani, the Iraqi president’s son and the KRG representative to the United States, in reasoning against the invasion, points to the failed military attempts to fight the PKK in the past, the extent of Turkish investment in the KRG economy, and the effect on Kurdish moderates living inside Turkey.
“If (Turkey) invades Iraqi Kurdistan,” Talabani said, “these moderates will have no choice but to become less moderate.”
“It could set a precedent,” he added. “If Turkey goes in unilaterally, what’s to stop any of Iraq’s other neighbors from going in?”
Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria all have large Kurdish populations, and all are wary of calls for Kurdish statehood.
As a result, Turkey doesn’t formally recognize the KRG. On issues like oil and fuel sales between the two countries, or a new oil pipeline from the KRG directly to Turkey, or finding common ground against the PKK, Ankara will only sit down with Baghdad.
Inside Iraq, the Kurds have tried to strike a balance between autonomy while being a part of the new Iraq.
The Kurds have been semiautonomous since the Gulf War in the 1990s per U.N. mandate and U.S. and British protection, which is why their political system, military and economy are more advanced than the rest of Iraq.
But disagreements with Baghdad over its role in the oil sector, among other issues, have soured the relationship.
“They have been insistent regarding the expansion of the KRG into mixed areas of the country (well beyond Kirkuk),” said Wayne White, Iraq expert at the Middle East Institute, referring to the oil-rich territory Kurds claim as theirs. “They have been largely defiant on issues related to the balance of power between Baghdad and the regions (such as oil and revenue sharing), measures aimed at reviving Kurdish identity have smacked of quasi-independence (flying the KRG flag instead of the Iraqi flag, for example), and they have taken practically no action to crack down on the PKK.”