Wednesday, October 19, 2011

US's Dilemma in Iraq

As widely reported today (here's the NYT's report), hundreds of Turkish soldiers, supported by Turkish warplanes, crossed more than 2 miles into Iraq today to go after members of the PKK militia who attacked and killed about 25 Turkish soldiers.  The US ambassador to Turkey has issued a statement deploring the PKK attacks, noting that that organization is on the US's official terrorist list.

Iraqi Kurdish politicians are not happy with Turkey's incursions into their territory - the latest in a series of Turkey's attacks into the territory of Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which, at least officially, is part of the state of Iraq, which is governed from Baghdad.  For Iraqi pols who hope to rebuild a truly Iraqi "nation" that incorporates the country's diverse ethnic groups and religious communities, Turkey has attacked the sovereign state of Iraq.  From Turkey's point of view, however, the PKK has to be eliminated, which means not allowing them a safe haven inside Iraq.  (One wonders how much the US is keeping an eye on this situation as a template for a possible future incursion of US forces into Pakistan to eliminate Taliban who flee from Afghanistan to shelter there.)

Will the US at some point need to choose between Turkey (the emerging new power in the Middle East, and one that it hopes to cajole back into an embrace of Israel, which is rendering itself more isolated by the day) and Iraq (the country where the US expended so much blood and treasure to "liberate" it, and which it desperately wants to nurture as an ally against Iran)?  

If Iraq's oil industry ever gets truly up and running, to exploit the bazillions of barrels of oil and cubic meters of natural gas now encased beneath its soil, American weapons-manufacturers (and the Congressmen at their collective teat) will expect a bonanza of sales to the Iraqi military - which, the US says, it wants to see beefed up enough to fend off outsiders and control its own airspace.

Has anyone envisioned the possibility of an Iraqi prime minister scrambling Iraqi fighter jets - supplied by Lockheed, General Dynamics, whomever - to defend northern Iraq (the current KRG) against bombings and strafings from Turkish warplanes?

UPI reports on some of the other implications for US policy in the Middle East if a full-blown civil war erupts in Turkey's southeast, and if Turkey ramps up its incursions into Iraq to go after the PKK.

the Americans may find themselves drawn into the conflict as Turkey launches air raids on PKK sanctuaries in Iraq and is expected to mount a major ground offensive, as it has in the past, if the Kurds keep up attacks on Turkish forces.

The Islamist government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan could well be supported by U.S. Predator drones that are expected to be deployed on Turkish soil as the Americans withdraw from Iraq.

Indeed, Ankara's growing campaign against the PKK is becoming interlocked with a worsening revolution in Syria, Turkey's threat to use military force to stop Greek Cypriots and Israel from exploiting offshore natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean and deteriorating relations between Iran and the United States.

As U.S. troops move toward completing their withdrawal from Iraq by Dec. 31, Washington is having to increasingly depend on Turkey, which has the second largest military within NATO, to help support Iraq, moderate with Iran and pressure the beleaguered regime in strife-torn Syria.

Erdogan last week launched weeklong military maneuvers on Turkey's border with Syria, as it did in 1988 when the two neighbors almost went to war over Damascus' backing for the separatists of the PKK.

Erdogan, who wants to make Turkey the paramount power in the region, has allowed the Syrian National Council, the umbrella for the myriad opposition groups that have been seeking the downfall of the minority Alawite regime in Damascus since mid-March, to operate out of Istanbul.

Syria's intelligence services, a key pillar of the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad, have threatened to resume arms deliveries to the PKK unless Erdogan minds his own business.

Turkish authorities uncovered an arms cache in the southern Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on Oct. 3 that may have originated in Syria.

Damascus accuses the Turks of arming the Free Syrian Army and the Syria Free Officers Movement, two groups formed by soldiers who defected from the Syrian military to join the uprising in which the United Nations says more than 3,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed.

These two groups, along with other dissident factions, operate from refugee camps on Turkey's border with Syria.

The regional upheaval is further complicated by Iran stepping up attacks on PJAK, the PKK's Iranian wing, which also has bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.

With the U.S. military pullout from Iraq, Washington's need for Erdogan's support will almost certainly intensify. The U.S. State Department has already branded the PKK a terrorist organization.

"I think Turkey has America's complete support regarding the PKK," says Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University.

"The U.S. is so dependent on Turkish backing when it comes to Syria and Iraq, I don't think they'll think twice about writing off the PKK."

The Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank, cites regional analysts as saying Iran "is using PJAK and the PKK to militarize the border regions in case of an American attack."

That prospect may have gained traction from U.S. allegations that Iran's Revolutionary Guards were involved in a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington.

Tehran vehemently denies that and some analysts suspect the incident was fabricated by U.S. authorities to discredit Iran and pave the way for possible military action.

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