It's time to get some things straight. Logic is misleading us into illusion.
I, like so many others, have said that Turkey would be foolish in the extreme to send troops into northern Iraq. Their attempts to chase out the PKK guerrillas would lead to chaos. An Iraqi Kurdish population, united in its hostility, knowing that Turkish tanks were really aimed at Kirkuk (and they would be), would fight them for every inch. Nothing that they could do would have any long-term effect on the viability of the PKK, who would scatter, vanish, re-group, and then scatter again. It would be an act of madness: a hammer swung hard upon a globule of mercury.
Remember this, however: just because it's madness doesn't mean the Turks won't do it.
We've already dodged one bullet in 2003. When the Turkish Parliament denied Bush the right to send troops across southern Turkey to invade Iraq from the north, they did W. a big favor and dealt away a huge bargaining chip: the right to send their own troops in with them. With the Turks in northern Iraq in 2003, there is no telling what might have occurred. The US Army may very well have found itself caught in the middle of Saddam's army, the Kurdish peshmergas, and the Turks themselves, all engaged in one huge festival of carnage. For the fact is, the Kurds of northern Iraq would never have allowed the Turks to enter. It would have been bloody.
It's the same way now, but even worse. The Kurds are anything but pushovers. Many units of the Iraqi Army, for example, are really Kurds--the best units, in fact. Does anyone really think that these troops will stay in Baquba or Baghdad when they hear that the Turks have pushed south from the Khabur River? They don't give a damn about the central government of Iraq; they'd go north immediately for the really important fight.
Cuneyt Elsever, writing in the Turkish Daily News of 19 June 2007, summarized a Turkish government report that had just come out (13 June) on the situation in northern Iraq. He writes:
Cross-border operations became a method that Turkey often applied in the 1990s, but it is hard to tell if they were successful in general...So far, the number of major Turkish cross-border operations in the region amounts to 24. In practice, the Turkish military [has been] inside Iraqi borders since 1992. Especially in the rectangular area of Zaho, Haftanin, Duhok and Amediye, there is a heavy Turkish military presence. Turkish troops from time to time hold operations from a few kilometers to 60 kilometers deep inside the border.In other words, the Turks have been deep into Iraq many times, with little lasting effect. Note the name of Amediye (Amadiyah), which is the eastern end of the rectangle. Amediye is close to the Greater Zab River, a major mountain tributary of the Tigris. Beyond the Zab, the ground rises into chaos: a mountain wilderness of high peaks and gorges, with no roads. Obviously, a move toward the PKK "headquarters" on Kandil Mt. would be extremely difficult:
In other words, this is a tough one. Any rational government would have negotiated long ago with these people, especially as the PKK has declared several unilateral cease-fires and indicated a desire to stop fighting. The men who run the Turkish Army, however, are not big on rationality. They are nationalists. Nothing will move them. Why, you may ask, doesn't the elected government of Turkey just go ahead and negotiate with the PKK? Because in Turkey the civilians pretend to rule, and the army pretends to let them. And the Army will not budge.
The number of outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists in northern Iraq varies between 3,000 and 5,000. Number of active PKK terrorists along the border is estimated around 2,000, 1,000 of whom are relatively better trained. The number of terrorists inside Turkey is estimated as 1,500.
After 2003 in particular, over 10 relatively large-scale armed PKK camps were formed in northern Iraq. The total number of camps is estimated at over 20. Weapons and ideological training are also provided here.
The PKK sheltered heavily in the Kandil mountain range away from the Turkish border. The closest point of these mountains is 80-90 kilometers by air, more than 100 kilometers surface distance. Considering terror camps, the distance exceeds 150 kilometers. The nearest airborne support is provided from Diyarbakır or Malatya. Which means that air support is about 456 kilometers away from the operation region. It is very difficult to lay siege on the mountain range entirely. Such an attempt requires a siege varying between 235 kilometers and 317 kilometers at distance, an area over 3,000 kilometer square meters that should be kept under control.
The valley PKK has nested in is at the height of 1,300-1,500 meters. Mountains around the valley are about 2,900 meter high. The summit peak is at 3,500 meters. [In other words], the PKK is in a way placed in a natural fortress. The dimension of this area is estimated as 13.4 X 4.6 kilometers. Zigzag passages should be taken to reach the mountain.
Presumably, the number of terrorists around the Kandil Mountain and surroundings decreased [after] discussions [of] a possible cross-border operation. However, a few hundred terrorists are deployed in well-maintained shelters in the mountain. Some experts believe this figure is about 600. The Mountain is mostly used for training purposes. Newcomers are brought here and trained for bombings and attacks. The “Mahsun Korkmaz Military Academy” and the “Haki Karer Ideological Training Academy” are situated here on the mountain.
At least one Turkish newspaper columnist, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, writing in the Turkish Daily News, understands quite well what is going on. He begins his column of 20 October 2007 (before the most recent clash in Oramar) by saying, quite frankly, that he doesn't know if he can say what he wants to say without going to jail. Specifically he cites the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, the catch-all provision that the authorities use any time someone says something that they aren't supposed to. This article, which forbids the utterance of anything which threatens the "indivisible unity of the Turkish State," makes John Adams's Alien and Sedition Acts look easy by comparison. You can't say, for example, that the Army doesn't know what it is doing with the PKK. That threatens the...blah blah blah. So Orhan Kemal Cengiz is worried.
But that basically is what Cengiz is saying. Strategy, he says, should be based on reality. But Turkey's "strategists" live in a fantasy world:
When it comes to our “strategists” though, we see a bunch of people whose understanding of what is going on is heavily distorted by their mindset. They are nationalists, they see things through emotionally clouded lenses, their assessment of Turkey's role and power is fundamentally wrong (because they do not understand that Turkey's power comes from its being a bridge, being a democracy, from its potential to become an EU member, and its being an ally of the West and so forth) and they take it for granted, not considering that this power may increase and decrease according to the steps that Turkey takes. Their understanding of the root causes of some problems, like the Kurdish question, is far from reality.
Right on, Orhan Kemal Bey. I thank you and wish you luck. Equally skeptical, but far more pessimistic, is another TDN columnist, Cengiz Candar. Candar thinks that we have passed the point of no return. The public had been enraged by previous attacks, he notes, but Sunday's attack has in his opinion made a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq inevitable. The army, he says, will try to do what Israel did in Lebanon: create a buffer zone of approximately 40 km. in depth into Iraq. And like Israel, he thinks that the effort will come to no good. But it will be done.
This is bad news, not only for George W. Bush, but for anyone who wants a better world. I happen to agree with Cengiz Candar. I think we are looking at dark times ahead.
Labels: Gordon Taylor