Turkey's war against Kurds could widen

Sept. 21, 2011 at 12:33 PM   |   Comments

IRBIL, Iraq, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Turkey is reported to be considering an intelligence alliance with Iran and Iraq to combat Kurdish separatists who have their main sanctuary in northern Iraq.

Turkey may even mount a ground offensive in a bid to crush the separatist movement.

The Turkish air force has been bombing bases of the Kurdish Workers' Party, known as the PKK, for several weeks, killing around 200 people in scores of raids.

But this hasn't stopped raids by the militants into southeastern Turkey, where nearly 50 soldiers have been killed.

Ankara's escalating assault on the outlawed PKK since June, when a de facto cease-fire expired, has coincided with an Iranian ground offensive against Iranian Kurds who are holed up in the Qandil Mountains of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

These moves by Turkey and Iran have once again thrust Iraq's Kurdish enclave into the maelstrom of ancient regional rivalries at a time when the Middle East is in turmoil.

The United States is a staunch supporter of Iraq's Kurds, who in 2003 helped topple Saddam Hussein's hated regime which had conducted a genocidal campaign against them. So the Americans could be dragged into this decades-old conflict.

As the Dec. 31 deadline for completion of the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq looms closer, U.S. officials are reported to be considering a Turkish offer to redeploy unmanned aerial vehicles now in Iraq to Turkey to increase surveillance of PKK forces.

The Americans already provide surveillance data on the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Washington, to Ankara, a NATO ally, gathered by Predator UAVs that are scheduled to be withdrawn from Iraq under the U.S. pullout.

The Turks have been heavily dependent on data about PKK movements gathered by the Predators. But employing U.S. drones for this purpose could create geopolitical complications.

Classified diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks reveal that Turkey has repeatedly pressed Washington to escalate U.S. involvement against the PKK and to eliminate the organization before the U.S. withdrawal is completed, involving the Americans in yet another Middle Eastern conflict.

Also, a Turkish offensive would have "a strategic component in that it would allow Turkey to gradually build up its military presence in northern Iraq, which Iran -- as a long-term competitor for influence in Iraq -- views with serious concern," observed U.S. global security think-tank Stratfor.

Iraq's minority Kurds have the nearest thing to an independent Kurdish state among the Kurdish population of 30 million that is spread over the three countries and Syria to the northwest.

Their ultimate ambition is to transform their enclave, which has its own semi-autonomous government, Parliament and military forces, into a full-blown independent state.

Tehran, Ankara and Damascus, not to mention Baghdad, are all dead set against that and have been known to set aside their differences to prevent the emergence of a Kurdish homeland.

At present Iran and Turkey are vying to become the paramount power in the turbulent region but crushing Kurdish aspirations could produce a temporary alliance.

The PKK launched their insurgency for an autonomous state for Turkey's 14 million Kurds, its largest minority, in 1984. Since then more than 40,000 people have been killed.

Turkey's recent airstrikes indicate a significant shift by the ruling Justice and Development Party away from diplomacy to end the Kurdish insurgency to using the country's military to crush the separatists.

Israel, too, could be drawn into the conflict. Israel's intelligence establishment has frequently supported the Kurds over the years, against the Baghdad regime or against neighboring Iran.

With relations between one-time allies Turkey and Israel becoming increasingly combative, there have been suggestions that the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, could throw its support behind the PKK to hit back at Israel's current nemesis, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Helping the Kurds establish an independent homeland would also be a blow to Iran, whose nuclear program the Israelis consider an existential threat, and old enemy Syria.

"With a bit of luck and political wisdom … the entire Kurdish people could take advantage of the ongoing Arab Spring and prepare the ground for a long-anticipated independent Kurdistan, linking up with Iraq's ongoing autonomy, the Iranian Kurdish enclave and perhaps even the Syrian Kurdish minority," Israeli defense specialist David Eshel wrote in a blog Aug. 12.

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