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Monday, December 31, 2007

What are the US and Israel trying to do in Kurdistan?

Kurdistan is a region that holds an ethnic minority that stretches over parts of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. The Kurds regard themselves as allies of the US and Israel and fought against Saddam Hussein for years. But now, both the United States and Israel are choosing to support Islamist Turkey in its quest to snuff out the Kurdish attempt at statehood. And I have to wonder why.

This morning, The Moderate Voice reported that the United States has been providing 'moral and logistical support' to Turkey in its battle with the PKK, a Kurdish terror group:
Turkish hostilities against the Kurdish nation have reached a very serious stage. Over the past few weeks, Turkish warplanes have bombed the territory of southern Kurdistan, which according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, has resulted in the displacement of at least 18,000 people, along with deaths and injuries to many civilians. Thanks to the moral and logistical support of the United States, the Turkish attacks have been quite effective. The Kurds who have been displaced, wounded or killed are the very people who opened the Northern Front for the United States during the war against Saddam Hussein – and this just when the Turkish Parliament refused to allow America the use of its territory. That same parliament has given a mandate to the Turkish military to invade southern Kurdistan on the pretext of pursuing a terrorist organization.


The PKK is not the cause of the problem; it is the symptom of a lack of democracy, civil society, rule of law and the severe oppression of the Kurdish nation by the Turkish state. The suppression of Kurds in Turkey may constitute genocide. If not fully a genocide, what Turkey has committed against the Kurds can safely be called cultural genocide.

Nonetheless, the PKK is an important element of the Kurdish cause in the north. In the absence of democratic elections for northern Kurds to elect representatives to a regional government and parliament of their own, the PKK today is the most effective organization for asserting the Kurdish identity, which remains banned in Turkey despite the E.U. claims of Turkish domestic changes. Whether we like it or not, millions of Kurds in the north regard the PKK as their representatives. This reality must be accepted by Turkey, the U.S. and the E.U.

If Turkey, the U.S. and the E.U. are sincere about wanting to solve the “Turkish problem” and satisfy the “Kurdish quest,” they must have the courage to pursue granting the Kurdish nation the legal status and right to self determination it deserves. This is the same right that any European nation, such as the Scots, Wales, Basks and other have had. It’s nothing new and is in accord with the U.N. charter.

Over the weekend, al-AP reported that Israel is providing the Turkish military with unmanned aircraft that are being used to attack Iraqi Kurdistan, which is currently effectively functioning as an independent state in all-but-name.
Israeli defense contractors plan to deliver to Turkey within weeks 10 unmanned aircraft that will be used, among other things, in intelligence-gathering operations against Kurdish rebels, an Israeli official familiar with the deal said Thursday.

As part of the $190 million (€134 million) deal with the Turkish Air Force, signed several years ago, Israeli crews will provide training and technical support for the Heron systems, the official said. A malfunction in a camera system manufactured for the drones by a Turkish subcontractor has held up delivery, but the problems are expected to be worked out soon, he said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the deal with the media. State-run Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. is lead contractor for the project, which also includes Israel's Elbit Systems Ltd. and Turkey's Aselsan.

The IAI wouldn't comment on whether Israeli crews would be involved in Turkish operations against the Kurds.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, has battled for autonomy in southeastern Turkey for more than two decades, and uses strongholds in northern Iraq for cross-border raids. Tens of thousands of soldiers, rebels and civilians have been killed in the campaign.

Turkey considers the PKK a terrorist organization, as do the U.S. and European Union. The Turkish government's war against the rebels has been bolstered by U.S. intelligence that has been flowing to Turkey since U.S. President George W. Bush met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Nov. 5.
Over the weekend, I read a lengthy article by Michael Totten about Iraqi Kurdistan. I want to quote two passages. The first deals with the geopolitical reasons (as opposed to the moral reasons - he discusses those too) why the US and Israel should support an independent state of Kurdistan (please ignore his mentions of the 'Palestinians' as a 'people' deserving of a 'state' - I disagree with them completely).
It should be obvious by now why an American-guaranteed independent Kurdistan would benefit the Kurds of Iraq. But few Americans seem to realize that--after Kurdistan itself--no country would benefit more from this than the United States.

For starters, if the United States insists on cutting its losses in Iraq, it would be best to cut only its losses. And clearly, Kurdistan is not a loss. Indeed, it would be a waste and a disgrace if this eminently decent society is abandoned to war, terror, and mayhem. Certainly the Kurds would have to be crazy to trust, let alone work with, Americans ever again. Moreover, the complete and permanent liberation of Iraqi Kurdistan and its rehabilitation from mass grave to free state would surely be one of the great foreign policy successes in American history. It would rightly take its place alongside the democratic transformation of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and the rescue of South Korea from the Stalinist starvation monarchy in Pyongyang. Losing Arab Iraq would be a partial loss, for sure. Yet no serious person says America unambiguously lost in Korea because only part of that country was saved.

Declaring partial victory isn’t just a matter of pride. Al-Qaida has set up shop in Iraq and hopes to defeat America there, just as the Mujahadeen drove Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Mujahadeen’s defeat of the Soviets there has long been one of al-Qaida’s most effective ideological talking points and recruiting slogans, insisting (however wrongly) that the economic and military superpowers are in fact easily defeated facades. Osama Bin Laden insisted that America would be next, and millions of radical Muslims loved him for it. Many wished to help him and joined al-Qaida.

And for a time, particularly in the weeks and months following September 11, it might have looked as though they were right. But they have been in decline ever since, unable to top their murder of three thousand civilians in New York and Washington. If they drive the American military out of Iraq, however, they will surely have topped themselves. They will no longer be in decline; they will, rather, be at a whole new peak. Bin Laden’s old and dubious claim that America is “next” will look almost plausible, and he will have a new case in point when he says that America and the West are the “weak horse.” Now, a partial American victory in Iraq won’t stop al-Qaida from declaring its own partial victory. But a draw certainly beats a rout. If al-Qaida manages to build a statelet in the Sunni Arab portion of Iraq--the only part of the country it could take over, even in theory--that statelet will exist right on the border of Kurdistan. How much better it would be if American troops were just minutes, and not time zones, away. Without a doubt, no better strategic location exists for American forces to disrupt or destroy al-Qaida’s new base--or, for that matter, to undertake future operations, should the need arise, in Iran or Syria.

As if more reason were needed, the odds of American soldiers facing a Kurdish insurgency are vanishingly close to zero. A few hundred troops are based there already, and not a single shot has been fired at them. In fact, Iraqi Kurdistan is where American soldiers go to relax on the weekend, a place where they can briefly take off their body armor. Nearby Arab countries--even those with friendly governments—are scarcely as welcoming: Most Kuwaitis, for example, don’t mind hosting American troops, since it was America that liberated them from Saddam Hussein. But some Kuwaitis think it’s time for American troops to go home now that Baghdad has a new government. American troops in Saudi Arabia also protected that country from an Iraqi invasion after Saddam swallowed Kuwait, but Osama Bin Laden cites that very protection as one of the grievances that triggered al-Qaida’s formation. Moving American troops to friendly Kurdish soil and away from hostile Arab soil will help put this long-standing problem to bed. American bases won’t be needed in Saudi Arabia or Arab Iraq if they are re-located to Kurdistan.

And one thing is certain: The United States military needs bases it can use without walking into the minefield of regional politics. If radical regimes like those in Syria and Iran are more emboldened than ever in the wake of recent American setbacks, new bases in Kurdistan may prove their worth very quickly.
The second passage I want to quote is why the Iraqi Kurds are unwilling or unable to get rid of the PKK:
Fifteen million Kurds live in eastern Turkey, and the separatist war between the government and the PKK has raged there, at varying degrees of intensity, for decades. In the all but impassable mountains on Iraq’s northeastern border with Turkey, the PKK has dug in its heels. Its guerillas launch hit-and-run-attacks against soldiers--and sometimes civilians--in Turkey, then retreat into their Iraqi valleys and caves. The Turkish military shells the redoubt from its side of the border, crosses the frontier in hot pursuit of the terrorists, and threatens to launch a major invasion if the Kurdistan regional government won’t militarily shove the PKK back into Turkey.

Why won’t the Kurds of Iraq evict the PKK? Why do they give Turkey an excuse to invade? Colonel Mudhafer was tired of that question. He impatiently unscrolled a map when I met with him in his office. “That’s where we lived when we fought against Saddam Hussein. We chose that place for a reason. It was impossible for Saddam to flush us out there, and it’s impossible for us to flush out the PKK now.”

If only it were that simple. The Kurdistan regional government could work with the Turks to prevent this from exploding into a larger, international struggle. But the Kurds are torn. Kurds in every country have a terrible history of fractious, internecine war. After Saddam was ejected from Iraqi Kurdistan, and before he was removed from power in Baghdad, Iraq’s Kurds fought a pointless civil war over resources and power. The results were devastating, but at least they learned an important lesson from the experience: When surrounded by enemies, don’t go fighting each other.

As their inaction in dealing with the PKK shows, however, the Kurds may have learned that lesson too well. Like both Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, the PKK arguably harms Kurds and their interests far more than their enemies do: It brings increasingly destructive reprisals down on their heads and makes a diplomatic solution to their problems all but impossible. [This is true and I am not suggesting that anyone should be supporting the PKK. But as you will see if you continue reading, the Turkish opposition to a Kurdish state has nothing to do with the PKK. CiJ]

“Fighting is not a solution,” one Kurd told me. Nor do the Iraqi Kurds want to fight, he continued, because the reason for the PKK’s terrorist activity is that the Kurdish people in Turkey don’t have rights.

Now, apologists for Palestinian terror say much the same thing. The analysis is partly persuasive, though, because it isn’t entirely wrong. Kurds in Turkey really do have legitimate grievances, just as stateless Palestinians do. But those grievances can’t be addressed by exploding bombs in Tel Aviv and Istanbul. ['Stateless Palestinians' don't have a separate ethnic identity. Kurds do. And unlike the Kurds, the 'Palestinians' have been offered a state and turned it down several times because what the 'Palestinians' really want is not their own state, but to destroy the Jewish state. CiJ]

Iraq’s Kurds know better, but they are locked in a holding pattern. They are pulled in one direction by their political morality, and in another by ethnic solidarity. They’ll need help if they are to avoid an all-out war with Ankara.

And make no mistake: The Turks may say their problem is the PKK, but they have also threatened to launch a full-scale invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan should the people there dare to declare independence. After all, Turkey fears a Turkish Kurdish unraveling of its own—not to mention an emboldened PKK—should an independent Kurdish state exist anywhere.

Certainly these are legitimate fears, not to be dismissed. But they don’t change the fact that nations inconvenient to Turkey have a right to exist. The United Nations can’t--or won’t--act as an honest broker between the two sides: It’s too weak and uninterested. But the United States can. Indeed, Americans are the only people in the world who consider both Turkey and Kurdistan allies. The Turkish-American alliance is strained, to be sure, but it is still an alliance. American soldiers could flush out Iraq’s PKK terrorists on the condition that Turkey’s relationship with its Kurdish minority is properly liberalized. And they should.
I don't understand why the US and Israel both seem to be so unequivocally on the side of Islamist Turkey. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

By the way, Totten's article is worth taking the time to read and it's available online (I read it in hard copy). While I disagree with his comparisons of the Kurds with the 'Palestinians,' I cannot understand why the United States and Israel are abandoning their most loyal ally in the Middle East.


At 9:00 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

I liked what I read. There's a better case to be made for an independent Kurdistan. They at least are a people different enough from the Arabs to deserve a homeland of their own. And they never have spilled innocent blood to obtain one.

There is nothing distinguishable about the Palestinian Arabs. They already have a state in Jordan. To create yet another state for them is ridiculous. Then again, international politics is all about who has the better set of patrons and the Kurds singular misfortune is they don't have them. On the other hand the Palestinians have Arabs blessed with the oil.

If that wasn't a factor in Western Chancelleries, I suspect no one would give a rat's rear end about Palestinian statehood. The issue has nothing to do with whether the Palestinians do in fact deserve a homeland. Something the Kurds can tell the world about.

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Dan said...

I believe that the PKK are marxist guerillas. The Kurds Mr. Totten refers to are the "good" Kurds that have no beef with Turkey.

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


Except that Turkey apparently has a beef with the Iraqi Kurds. Totten reports that Turkey is not willing to see a Kurdish state come into existence anywhere because they are afraid it will give their own Kurds ideas.

Realize that most of the states in the Middle East have borders that are based upon how the British and the French cut up the Ottoman Empire after defeating Turkey in World War I. Those borders took no accounting of ethnic groups like the Kurds (or the Zorastians in Iran to give another example), who find themselves spread across four countries now.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Dan said...

Yes, but isn't your post here about the U.S. changing its stance from working with the Kurds to allowing Turkey to bomb them? I believe the U.S.'s 'permission' likely only extends to the PKK because, I think, the U.S. considers them a terrorist organization.

I agree with you that Turkey doesn't want a Kurdistan... and that this turmoil is fueled to some extent by 'straight-line borders (can't rule out base tribalism as a coinciding cause), but that didn't seem to be your initial premise.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


No, read it again. The Turks are bombing on the Iraqi side of the border.


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