Turkey, Iran boost war on Kurds in Iraq

SULEIOMANIYAH, Iraq, June 24 (UPI) -- The Turkish military has mounted several attacks on Kurdish separatist bases in northern Iraq in recent days as Ankara's 26-year war with its troublesome minority, one of the world's longest-running guerrilla conflicts, swells yet again.

At the same time, Iran has intensified its operations against its own Kurdish separatists holed up in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq, including incursions across the rugged border.


This two-pronged assault on the groups sheltering in Iraqi Kurdistan has put Baghdad in the middle of a fight involving two of its neighbors, both of whom seek to influence events in the oil-rich country as U.S. forces withdraw.

Other people's wars is the last thing that Baghdad needs right now, as the country's political leaders plot against, and sometime kill, each other in a struggle for power in the aftermath of inconclusive March 7 parliamentary elections.


Turkey and Iran, meantime, are also engaged in confrontations with Israel, and claim that Israeli agents are aiding the Kurdish Workers' Party, or PKK, the Turkish Kurds, and the Free Life Party of Kurdistan, or PEJAK, the Iranian insurgents based in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish enclave.

Israel has repeatedly denied that. But the Jewish state has a history of aiding the Kurds, 20 million of whom are spread over Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq, when it suits its geopolitical purposes.

Until recently, Turkey was a key ally of Israel, bound together by a 1996 military agreement. But relations began to sour when Israel warplanes used Turkish airspace in a raid on a suspected nuclear site in Syria in September 2007 -- without informing Ankara in advance.

Ties worsened in December 2008, when Israeli forces invaded the Gaza Strip, supposedly to stop Hamas rocket attacks, and killed 1,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, in a 22-day conflict.

The crisis peaked May 31 when Israeli naval commandos in the eastern Mediterranean boarded a Turkish-flagged ship carrying aid to blockaded Gaza and killed nine Turks aboard.

Ironically, Turkey's deteriorating relations with its erstwhile ally could have a consequence that will impede its military operations against the PKK in Iraq: the loss of Israeli-made unmanned aerial vehicles that are a vital weapon in the campaign against the Kurdish separatists.


The Turks are currently using six of 10 Israeli Heron unmanned aerial vehicles in their operations in northern Iraq. The drones, based at the Turkish air base at Batman, 100 miles from the Iraqi border, fly surveillance and intelligence-gathering missions.

The Turks have other UAVs but the Heron is believed to the most advanced in their arsenal.

Iraq's security forces are tied down fighting al-Qaida and other insurgents conducting a campaign of bombings and assassinations across Iraq. The victims included several politicians apparently slain by sectarian rivals in the struggle over who will form the next government.

So Iraq's armed forces have little time to take on the far superior Turkish military or Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards who are conducting the cross-border raids.

The PKK has long used Iraqi Kurdistan as a launch pad for hit-and-run attacks across the mountainous border into southeastern Turkey. Repeated Turkish air raids and ground incursions, sometimes involving large forces, have failed to stop the infiltration in a war in which some 40,000 people have been killed since 1984.

Iraq's Kurds have either tuned a blind eye to their cousins' depredations or actively aided them.

The latest Turkish campaign follows a sharp escalation in PKK operations over the last few weeks in a rebel spring offensive that is proving top be one of the deadliest in years. These attacks included the killing of seven Turkish servicemen in a PKK attack on a Mediterranean naval base at Iskenderun in southwestern Turkey.


It was the first time the PKK has struck so far from their main battleground in Anatolia and the cities of northern Turkey. There have been other unusual attacks in the Black Sea region.

On June 11, police seized a car packed with explosives in the Aegean resort town of Buca and said they had foiled a plot to bomb the nearby port of Izmir, Turkey's third largest city and a major tourist attraction.

Last Friday, the Turkish military said it had killed as many as 120 rebels in airstrikes and a daylong raid by Special Forces troops on their hideouts in northern Iraq.

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