Monday, December 17, 2007

 

About the Turkish air attack on Iraq

The US–Turkey tragifarce continues. Turkey sent 50 fighter jets over Kurdish Iraq (Kurdistan) this Sunday to strike villages where the PKK, the "terrorist" organization leading the Kurdish separatist movement, were presumed to be active. According to the BBC report, "Iraqi officials" claimed 10 villages were attacked. The PKK says five of its fighters and two women were killed.

Yesterday's account from the BBC included Turkish claims that the U.S. had backed the attacks. Today's update from the Beeb bore the headline "US denies backing Turkey PKK raid." Whom to believe? This one is easy: Believe the Turks.

Bradley Brooks of the AP seems to have better connections than the BBC correspondents—

The attack came a month after the U.S. promised to share intelligence with Turkey to help combat the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK and Turkey's military chief, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, said U.S. intelligence was used Sunday.

"America gave intelligence," Kanal D television quoted Buyukanit as saying. "But more importantly, America last night opened (the Iraqi) airspace to us. By opening the airspace, America gave its approval to this operation."

In Washington, a Pentagon official said that the U.S. military has been sharing intelligence with the Turks, but that he did not know exactly what information was given to aid with the airstrikes or when it might have been given.

Another defense official said the U.S. had made sure Turkey would have clear use of the skies to enable the strikes.

They both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

While an attack by 50 warplanes may seem a sudden and frightful escalation of the Turkish threat to invade northern Iraq—highlighted by the 100,000 or so troops positioned at the border—it seems more likely an attempt by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan at least to postpone such an eventuality, with the U.S. assisting him in the effort.

As I've mentioned previously, Erdogan appears to have his own reasons for averting a full-scale ground invasion aside from the question of whether such an invasion would be strategically or tactically sound. Nevertheless, with a claim that over 35,000 Turkish lives have been lost in attacks by the PKK, Erdogan can't allow the Turkish public to conclude that he's sitting on his hands.

My conclusion is based on these considerations—

First, it is odd that so many warplanes could attack so many villages and leave only 7 dead. If the strikes were "surgical" (a term not used in the accounts), the Turkish Air Force makes the U.S. Air Force look like an abortionist with a coathanger. It seems more likely that the attack was an exercise in "shock and awe."

Second, the attack could only anger anyone who still identifies as an Iraqi, but certainly the Kurds. The unofficial acknowledgement of U.S. complicity in the foray reveals the delicate situation in which the U.S. finds itself—unable to control Kurdistan on the one hand and unable to deny Turkey its right to self-defense on the other. So it may be that a highly visible but essentially toothless air attack was the best that could be hoped from the U.S. perspective.

Still there is a cost. To help stave off an outright Turkish invasion, the U.S. must cooperate more openly with Turkey while risking alienation of the only region that has stayed out of the armed resistance to U.S. occupation—

Masoud Barzani, leader of the autonomous Kurdish region, in a statement condemned the attacks, which he said were "conducted with indirect U.S. approval, as defending the sovereignty of Iraq and the Kurdish region is within the Americans' responsibilities."

Barzani is well on record in support of Kurdish independence.

Related posts
If this is true ... (3/4/05)
Threat of the Day (10/9/07)
Another excuse for the US presence in Iraq is crumbling (10/23/07)

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