– High level diplomatic overtures between the US, Turkey and the Iraqi government may be alleviating Turkish threats to launch a full scale invasion into Northern Iraq
– The US will be providing actionable intelligence to Turkey on the PKK
– Pinpoint operations into Iraqi territory by the Turkish military are likely in the near-term
Several weeks ago, it appeared that the Turkish military was on the brink of launching a full-scale military incursion into Northern Iraq to counter Kurdistan Worker’s Part (PKK) rebels. The Turkish government has been vexed by the fact that the PKK launches attacks into Turkey from their safe havens in Kurdish Northern Iraq and then retreats back across the border.
Over the past several months, tThe PKK hasd dramatically increased itstheir attacks on Turkish military and gendarme forces, as well as civilians in the south of Turkey. After the audacity of the October 2007 attacks , , , and the high casualty rates, both the Turkish public and government were demanding that Prime Minister Recep Erdogan take firm action against the PKK once and for all. As such, tThe Turkish Parliament gave its authorization for the military to launch a full-scale military invasion into Iraq should it be needed.
Turkey Pressing for US and Iraq to Counteringr the PKK
Turkey had been pressing both the United States and the Iraqi government to take concrete action against the PKK, but had grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress on this matter. The United States US has been hesitant to take any actions in Northern Iraq because of the fear it could escalate and de-stabilize the relatively peaceful northern part of the country. In addition Iraqi Kurds were not as hostile to US forces as other groups in the country.
While Iraqi Kurds may not support the aims of the PKK per se, they do support their Kurdish brethren, making it likely that they would side with them in the event of a conflict. The Iraqi government on the other hand is considered too impotent to have noany real influence in Northern Iraq. However, neither of these parties wanted Turkey to unilaterally invade Iraqi territory fearing it would set a precedent for other bordering states and widen the conflict in the country.
Since the Turkish Parliament’s authorization (Previous Report), the United States US has moved into a rapid, and high level of diplomatic activity to deal with this issue—to demonstrate to Turkey that the US is serious about the PKK problem and to stave off any full-scale invasion. The Turkish government simply had run out of patience with the US over the PKK and was threatening to take unilateral action. The US was involved in negotiations which broughta deal bringing together the Iraqi government and the regional Kurdish government in Iraq to broker a deal to release Turkish soldiers held captive by the PKK. The release of the soldiers demonstrated that the local Kurdish government could be pressured into cooperation, a sign of progress.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice The US Department of State also pledged to re-double efforts to combat the PKK in a meeting in Ankara and Prime Minister Erdogan was invited to meet with President Bush in Washington DC on November 5, 2007.
The Bush-Erdogan meeting has been deemed a cautious success in bringing Turkey back from the brink of conflict. Prime Minister Erdogan stated that he gave President Bush a list of five demands for the US to take action against the PKK including shutting down PKK camps and cutting off logistics support. Erdogan later said that he got what he wanted and Turkey still retains the ability to launch an operation against the PKK in Northern Iraq. Erdogan further emphasized that an action was planned, but Turkey was not preparing for war but rather an operation. It was also made clear that if this action did not work, then a full-scale incursion was still on the table.
Prime Minister Erdogan is choosing his words very carefully, pulling back from the specter and commitment to an all out incursion, but firmly demonstrating that action would be taken and the US and Turkey are now cooperating.
The US has also declared that the PKK is anthe enemy of Turkey, Iraq and the US. As such, tThe US will also provide actionable intelligence on PKK positions. The US has publicly stated that Iraqi territory should not be violated, but has also said that the US would cooperate to chase down those who murdered others. From this meeting it is believed an agreement has been made between all parties to allow Turkey to conduct limited raids into Iraqi territory,y and including air strikes and special operations. These operations would be considered “pinpoint” or targeted operations.
Saving Face or Delaying Tactic?
It would seem that the US has met some success with de-escalatingpulling Turkey back from conducting a large Iraqi incursion. It is also likely that the Turkish government itself wanted to find a way to save face. With the recent diplomatic activities and overtures, the Turkish government may have given the people the proof that it is going to do something about the PKK militarily but is also engaging the international community diplomatically.
It is probable that the Turkish government fears that a full-scale incursion could easily become bogged down, and not achieve value-for-effort strategic objectives. It would also complicate diplomatic relations with all parties involved in the region let alone other political concerns such as the European Union (EU) ascension talks. In addition, Turkey is heavily invested in this region of Iraq. Northern Iraq is a large export market for Turkish goods and Turkish companies are building a great deal of infrastructure in the region. A war would damage the economic relationship forin both sides.
The PKK has now said they are open to political dialogue, but it does not appear the Turkish government is interested. The release of the Turkish soldiers could have been a good faith effort in this direction or may be fueled by fear that the by the PKK that they may be losing their safe haven in Iraq, and therefore need to offer some concessions. The Turkish government is also making some contradictory signals. While there are legal and administrative processes the government must follow to pursue such a major actions such as cross-border incursion, the government is by no means homogenous. The Turkish military has always been considered the guardians of Turkish society, and has been suspicious of members of the ruling Islamist party of the Erdogan government. General Buyukanit, the head of the Turkish Armed Forces has stated that it is still not too late for Turkey to mount a full-scale invasion.
While this may simply be a scare tactic, there is also the possibility that despite the diplomatic overtures, the Turkish government is still considering a major strike into Northern Iraq. Considering winter weather conditions in theis mountainous region are fast approaching, Turkey will have to make a decision very soon on the type of military action it wishes to pursue or lose the opportunity until next spring.