Iraq: Turkey Warned Against Incursion Into North
October 10, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Just one week after concluding a security
agreement with the Iraqi government to combat terrorism, Turkish Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on October 9 that he would call on parliament to grant
permission for a military incursion into Iraq to pursue Turkish-Kurdish rebels
from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) holed up in
government reacted strongly to the threat, calling on Turkey to respect Iraq's
sovereignty and to resolve its dispute with the PKK through nonviolent means.
Turkey was reportedly not satisfied with the terms of the
agreement signed last week between the two countries' interior ministers, Besir
Atalay and Jawad al-Bulani. Turkey's main complaint was that a much-sought-after
clause permitting the Turkish military to cross the border in "hot pursuit" of
Kurdish militants was left out of the agreement. Turkey launched large-scale
incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan twice in the 1990s, but failed to dislodge the
Instead, the September 28 agreement called for intelligence sharing,
prosecution or extradition of wanted terrorists, the appointment of a diplomatic
liaison officer to their respective missions, and the establishment of a
coordination committee to be co-chaired by the two interior ministers, which
would meet every six months to oversee implementation of the agreement.
The agreement calls on the parties to "take effective measures to
prevent the preparation and commission of terrorist acts aimed at the security,
territorial integrity and inviolability of borders, and safety of citizens of
the other party."
The agreement was followed in recent days by two
attacks by PKK militants on civilian and military targets inside Turkey that
left some 26 people dead, prompting Erdogan to pledge to take action against the
PKK, wherever the group is present. Estimates suggest more than 3,000 PKK
fighters are hiding in the Qandil Mountain range in northern
Domestic Pressure For Action On PKK
forces Chief of Staff Yasar Buyukanit is one of the country's strongest
proponents of a cross-border military attack on PKK bases. In late June,
Buyukanit called on Ankara to lay out political guidelines for a military
incursion following a standoff with Erdogan a month earlier, in which the prime
minister refused to authorize military action.
Erdogan instead insisted
that all diplomatic channels be exhausted before a military incursion into Iraq
is considered. Later, he said Turkey should first deal with the 5,000 terrorists
based inside its territory before it considered launching attacks on PKK bases
The issue took a temporary backseat to the July 22 general
elections, but with elections out of the way, and mounting pressure on Erdogan
to take action -- his party has been accused of lacking the political will to do
so -- it appears the prime minister has been forced to take a tougher stand on
Moreover, the government is facing mounting public pressure to
reach some kind of political accommodation with its Kurdish population. Turkish
President Abdullah Gul's mid-September visit to the Kurdish region in southeast
Turkey was billed by some media as a government signal that Turkey's
longstanding policy on its Kurdish population was changing. "The president, as
the highest representative of the state, is communicating to Kurds that a new
period has begun. He is hinting that the state will provide democratic solutions
and ensure trust for the Kurdish policy in the new period, rather than
implementing harsh precautionary measures and pressures," Mumtazer Turkone wrote
in "Today's Zaman" on September 15.
However, that position was subverted
by other realities. Yilmaz Oztuna, writing in the daily "Turkiye" on October 3,
summed up one view of Turkish-Iraqi relations, implying the United States was
blocking an incursion due to a long-standing grievance with Turkey.
Oztuna called both the September 28 agreement and U.S. policy on the PKK
a "joke," saying that Turkey "will very soon regret" signing the agreement.
"Overall, the U.S. continues to bear a grudge against Turkey because of the
reaction of the March 1 parliamentary motion [a reference to the 2003 decision
not to allow U.S. planes to launch attacks against Saddam Hussein from Incirlik
air base], and in return, asks Turkey to accept its Iran policy with no
objections. Otherwise, the U.S. hints, the Kurdish issue and the Armenian
[genocide] issue will be used against Turkey."
Meanwhile, Gul shifted
his position following an October 7 terrorist attack that left 13 soldiers dead.
"Those who create, feed, and support terrorism should know that no force can
stand against the determination of the Republic of Turkey to protect its
inseparable integrity," he said.
Iraqi Kurds' Autonomy As Political,
One issue that lies heavily on the minds of Turkish
leaders is the status of Iraqi Kurdistan. Should Iraq's Kurds seek further
autonomy, try to extend the borders of their region, or attempt to break away
from Iraq, Turkey has long been seen as likely to take action, in the belief
that Iraq's Kurds will inspire Turkey's own Kurdish population to push for their
own autonomous region.
Delivering the keynote address to the Turkish War
Academies opening of the academic year on October 1, Buyukanit said: "Iraq is
rapidly moving towards a confederation. Division in Iraq is very close. An
independent state in the north of Iraq would not only be a political threat, but
also a security threat to Turkey. Turkey must look at the north of Iraq from a
political, military, and psychological perspective. Turkey must closely watch
[developments] in the north of Iraq."
The very public welcoming of the
September U.S. Senate resolution supporting federalism in Iraq by the Kurdistan
regional government only escalated Turkish fears of Iraqi Kurdish separatism.
Though the Kurdish statement welcomed U.S. support for federalism as outlined in
the Iraqi Constitution, Turkish media saw it as a provocation.
Turkomans, ethnic Turks who have close ties to Ankara, responded by saying they
would press for the establishment of a Turkoman region in northern Iraq in order
to secure their "legitimate national rights." The Turkomans said they would seek
Ankara's help in establishing a "fourth region" should events necessitate it.
In what was seen by some as a petty reprisal, the Turkish government
forbid Kurdish airlines from using Turkey's airspace, effectively blocking
flights between Western Europe and the Kurdish cities of Irbil and
International Pressure Against Military
For the time being, a Turkish military incursion remains
unlikely, given the intense foreign pressure on Turkey to seek a diplomatic
In its statement on the need for continued reforms to meet
the requirements for EU accession, the European Parliament on October 3 called
on Turkey to "launch a political initiative favoring a lasting settlement of the
Kurdish issue," adding that Turkey should refrain from violating Iraq's
The U.S. State Department commented on the possibility of a
military strike on October 9. Despite a reported U.S. commitment earlier this
year to take action against the PKK within Iraq's borders, spokesman Sean
McCormack said: "As a general principle, we have counseled both Iraq as well as
Turkey that the way to address the issue is to work cooperatively. In our view,
it is not going to lead to a long-term, durable solution to have -- to have
significant incursions from Turkey into Iraq."
Meanwhile, Russia called
for restraint. "We understand the Turkish authorities' concerns about a recent
string of terrorist attacks. At the same time, bearing in mind the high
sensitivity of the tight tangle of all regional problems, we are calling on the
sides involved in the conflict to display as much restraint as they can,"
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in an October 10
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh commented on the
possibility of unilateral Turkish military action on October 9, telling
Al-Arabiyah television: "We know that the PKK harms Turkey and harms us in Iraq.
It is a terrorist organization that kills civilians and military men. Therefore,
we cooperate with Turkey. We do not think military force can solve the
But for now, it appears Baghdad can do little but stress its
desire for a negotiated settlement between Ankara and the PKK. Given the
insecurity that continues to plague much of the country, Iraq cannot afford to
take action against the PKK. This reality may be prompting Turkey to assume it
will have a free hand in northern Iraq.
How Far Will Turkey
Moreover, it appears the September 28 agreement, which gives the
parties six months to implement its terms, will be of little use. Without a
hot-pursuit clause, Turkey would be in clear violation of Iraq's sovereignty
should it cross the border. However, the agreement does hold up the validity of
earlier agreements between the Iraqi and Turkish governments, namely a 1926
agreement, as well as a 1946 agreement and a 1989 agreement, not to mention
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's recent memorandum of understanding signed in
Though the texts of the earlier agreements were not immediately
available, Ilnur Cevik wrote in "The New Anatolian" on October 1 that the 1926
and 1946 agreements did in fact allow for hot pursuit, but only to target
smugglers and bandits. "Now, [any hot-pursuit clause] would be for PKK
terrorists," he wrote. Moreover, he contended, "Turkey could launch hot-pursuit
operations anytime, according to international rules, without any permission
from Iraq. But this would have a very limited scope," meaning an incursion of
limited size and distance.
As for the impact on Iraqi stability, any
incursion would likely prompt the Kurdistan regional government to recall its
peshmerga militia forces, now part of the Iraqi Army, from their current duties
of assisting the U.S.-led coalition in securing north-central Iraq.
Kurdish minister for peshmerga affairs, Jabbar Yawir, said on October 9 that the
region will confront any incursion. "If Turkish troops were to violate the
border of the Kurdistan region -- though I cannot fathom why Turkey would lead
itself into such a whirlpool -- it will then be the Iraqi Army's duty to
confront such a force, since the Kurdistan region is part of Iraq. The Iraqi
Army will be backed by the Kurdistan peshmerga force and all the security
forces, in order to protect the security they have established over the
Copyright (c) 2007 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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