Friday, June 8, 2007

Turkey to Attack Iraq

Turkey was always afraid that the US invasion of Iraq would strengthen Northern Iraq's Kurdish pseudo-state. The Kurds of northern Iraq today are self governed, have a formidable militia (the peshmerga), and even have their own flag (shown here). As Baghdad burns to the ground, the Kurdish controlled portion of northern Iraq is relatively free of violence. But the region is also home to Kurdish terrorist groups that carry out attacks in Turkey. With these groups operating freely within Iraq, and Turkey on edge after a series of recent attacks, Ankara has threatened several times to attack terrorist bases within Iraqi Kurdistan, but has not yet done so, partly as a courtesy to the United States.

Tensions are rising as Turkey has begun a substantial troop buildup at the Iraqi border. On June 7, unofficial reports suggested that Turkish commandos in pursuit of Kurdish rebels entered a couple miles into Iraq before turning back. Brief raids inside Iraqi territory like this one have happened in the past, but the last time there was a large-scale Turkish operation inside Iraqi territory was in 1997, when 50,000 troops crossed the border to flush out rebels.

Further background from

"There is an intense internal debate in Turkey about whether Ankara should push across the border to root out guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), based inside the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq. Turkey accuses the PKK of launching attacks inside Turkish territory.

The Turkish government, which faces a general election next month, has appeared so far to want to avoid a military incursion. But a bomb attack in Ankara two weeks ago in which six people were killed, has been blamed on Kurdish separatists and put the issue of terrorism, and Turkey’s appropriate response to it, at the top of the election agenda.

The military holds a spring offensive in the region every year, but the build-up in recent days has taken on an ominous dimension amid ever-louder rhetoric from Turkey’s senior generals about the need to crush PKK fighters."

Barring any dramatic terrorist attacks, Turkey is not about to launch a large-scale attack - not while Iraq remains America's pet-project. When the US withdraws in 2008, however (see "When the US Will Withdraw from Iraq," June 3, 2007), the Kurds will move to increase their independence, likely leading to increased cross-border terrorist activity. These attacks will provide justification for Turkish military retaliation, just as the US backs out. If the US begins withdrawing around May 2008, expect Turkish airstrikes and raids to begin a year later in the spring of 2009. Large ground forces will follow only if Turkey feels that its justification is strong enough that the move will not jeopardize its bid to join the EU.

Turkey is unlikely to have such a compelling justification, so as 2009 approaches, look for relatively frequent, small-scale, targeted, precision attacks.

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