Saturday, October 20, 2007

US Between Kurds and a Hard Place

Following a series of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorist style attacks against Turkish troops north of the Iraqi border, Turkey is putting pressure on the US to deal forcefully with the PKK problem. The not-so-veiled threat is clear. If the US does not deal with the PKK, then Turkey will. Indeed, the Turks are under a tremendous amount of internal pressure to respond forcefully, and it is only out of concerns for the political implications with NATO that has caused Turkey to hold back to date. (Reuters: Turkish PM says expects U.S. to act against PKK.)

If anyone other than Turkey does deal with the problem, it will have to be the US. Baghdad has very little influence over the Kurdish controlled territories which have been largely autonomous since the first Gulf War ended over a decade ago. The US, however, is already spread thin dealing with the Sunni and Shiite instability further south and can ill afford to get embroiled in a region that has been relatively stable since the Iraq war began. Indeed, the Kurdish territories have been lauded as a prime example of a successful Democracy in Iraq, so calls for US action against the Kurds leaves Washington in a very awkward position.

The political leverage, unfortunately, is now on the side of Turkey, thanks to the ill conceived House committee resolution calling the 1915 Armenian slayings "genocide". The US is now on the defensive with our closest Middle Eastern ally and may be forced to deal with the Kurdish situation simply as a means to smooth the ruffled feathers in Ankara. These are the consequences of foolhardy meaningless resolutions that have neither weight nor purpose.

Turkey did not rule out joint operations with the Iraqi military to deal with the PKK, however even that measure of cooperation between the current Iraqi government and Ankara would serve to destabilize the north. With increasing calls at home to remove US troops from Iraq, an impending presidential and congressional election in the US that will focus heavily on our strategy in Iraq, and with virtually all US allies announcing troop withdrawals over the coming year, the last thing we can afford is the unification of the Kurds against the current Iraqi government. We simply don't have the resources in the theater to deal with a third outbreak of hostility.

So we truly are between the Kurds and a hard place. Turkey is right in their assertion that the PKK terror activities must be curbed. They are also correct in their belief that only the US can deal with it from the Iraqi side of the border. The timing, however, is miserable, and that fact is not lost on the PKK. The unfortunate reality is that we may well have to allow Turkey to deal with the problem on their own with our blessing. There will likely be little left of the Kurdish population in Iraq and Turkey if that happens, but quite frankly I don't see how the US can afford to be distracted into dealing with a border situation in the north. We've enough problems in the south. The solution, however distasteful, is simple. Give Turkey the IFF codes and let them deal with the problem. Just be prepared for a new resolution coming out of the House.

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