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An internal Turkish political crisis, an invasion of Kurdish Iraq, or just "Fetih bayram"? A reply to Ianus.

Reader comment on item: A Critical Moment For Turkey
in response to reader comment: "Fetih bayram" - Islamists and secularists march together to celebrate the 554th anniversary of the "liberation" of Constantinope from the Greek occupation

Submitted by James Vesce (United States), Jul 18, 2007 at 15:33

There have been millions of Turks marching in the streets this past spring and summer, and maybe it has something to do with a national "We conquered Constantinople" celebration on one of those days, but I think the central issue has more to do with the current conflicts between Erdogan's Islamist party and the secularist military. That would explain why people from both sides of the issue were out in the streets.

When Prime Minister Erdogan tried to nominate Foreign Minister Gul to the presidency, it would have upset the balance of power in Turkey by creating a situation where the Islamists claimed both the Prime Minister's and the President's offices. In response to Erdogan's slick move, the military wrote a memorandum of protest, opposition party members and independents boycotted the elections, the parliamentary vote failed to achieve a quorum of 2/3 of the 550 member parliament, and the high court declared the election invalid. An election July 22 was declared, and we are now just a few days away from that election. That's why people were out in the street.

I love Ianus' mastery of Turkish history. Don't we all? I'm just putting a different point on it. I can't find substantial disagreement with Ianus.

The pressing, current Turkish issues have included secularism versus Islamism, and also some competition for which brand of Islamism we prevail if Islamism is inevitable in Turkey.

The Turkish issues have also included the often-incompatible demands of security versus economic prosperity. In this realm of competing issues the secular military has taken the lead in demonstrating a willingness to move against the PKK terrorists in Iraqi Kurdistan while Erdogan's Islamists have been able to stabilize the economy and win support in the business sector, particularly among Anatolians. Erdogan's Islamists have been accused of being "soft on terrorists" whenever the military has been more willing to control the PKK.

An independent candidate (who was also an opposition newspaper owner) was assassinated last Friday.

200,000 troops have massed on the Turkish-Iraqi border, and both the military and the government have declared their readiness to invade Kurdistan in Iraq to defend Turkey from PKK terrorists. Their plans have been described as "detailed", and Turkey has claimed they can execute the invasion within a 24-hour period.

Recognizing that the military has won popular support, before the July 22 election, by launching some limited incursions into Kurdistan and demonstrating how willing they are to take action to protect Turkey from PKK terrorists, Erdogan and Gul have covered their political bases by saying they're ready for an invasion, too. It is likely that Erdogan's Islamists would like to stall an invasion until after the July 22 election, simply because an invasion would have a destabilizing effect on the Turkish domestic economy, and lose political support for Erdogan's Islamists from the business sector.

The fact that a "buffer zone" around the anticipated region of Turkish military operations in Kurdish Iraq has been declared until mid-September indicates that invasion planners are taking the July 22 election very much into account in their planning.

The July 22 date in Turkey resonates very loudly with a July 15 deadline Syria announced for Syrians to vacate Lebanon, so that they'd be safe from expected "eruptions" that might take place in Lebanon. We now find that Syria has moved troops three miles into Lebanon, though they've moved into essentially unoccupied territory, and the incursion hasn't attracted much attention from the international news services.

Is that small Syrian incursion into Lebanon an echo of the small Turkish incursion into Kurdistan a few weeks ago? Are these Muslim countries "testing the waters" to see what reaction the US and Israel and NATO will show, if any?

The American government has condemned a Turkish invasion of Kurdistan, naturally, but in other statements we have acknowledged that the US military has been unable to control the PKK, and we acknowledge that the Iraqi police and military have been unable to control the PKK. The PKK has been labeled a terrorist organization by the US, and by others, for years. We respect Turkey's right to defend themselves from terrorists. Turkey has asked the US to explain why PKK terrorists have been using American weapons, and the US does not want to be seen as sponsoring Kurdish Muslim terrorists. It is almost a sideways approval of a limited invasion when our military states that the Turks had enough military resources to provide for Turkish security before the build-up of forces occurred, sort of like saying that the 50,000 or so troops they usually post there would be enough, and such a smaller invasion would be more easily tolerated by us, and Turkey shouldn't need 200,000 troops. At his point it is almost as though we're dickering over the size of Turkey's invasion, rather than dickering over whether there will be an invasion.

So, why so many Turkish troops on the border? I think Turkey anticipates a longer and broader mission into Kurdish Iraq than merely mopping up some PKK and then going back home. I think the Turks are prepared to compete with Iran for the Kurdish territory, as well as dealing with the Kurds and maybe some Iraqis. I think Turkey recognizes that if the Iranians suspect a Turkish move to occupy Kurdish territory on a more permanent basis, knowing Turkey has made a claim to that territory since World War I, Iran will also make a bid for that territory, and Turkish troops would then have to be prepared to deal with the Iranian military.

If the US wants somebody to engage the Iranians right now, it would be terrific if that privilege fell to the Turkish military. That would be a real good reason to "stand aside" while Turkey deployed their military assets. Turkey is the nation most likely to block an Iranian attempt to grab the lion's share of territory in Iraq, if such territory were up for grabs. No, I don't think the Turkish military is any great friend of the US and Israel, but they are the defenders of secularism in Turkey by tradition and by the Turkish constitution, and they've spoken with the US and Israel when the Erdogan government hasn't. Erdogan has been connected with sponsoring al Qaeda terrorism through his connections with Yasin al-Qadi, about whom Erdogan said, "I believe in him as I believe in myself."

We're in the situation of having to pick between greater and lesser evils, and between more or less immediate threats, and between potential threats. We don't have a lot of good choices, but we have to choose.

Do the Turks expect their military to be in conflict with our military? I think not. With congress calling for withdrawing our troops from Iraq, Turkey expects their invasion to be "allowed" by the US. Congress will never approve sufficient military resources for the US to take on the Turkish military because Turkey actually has the biggest and most capable military force of any Muslim country in the Middle East. American-Turkish relations are important, as are Turkish-Israeli relations, and the Turkish military has consistently been willing to talk to Israel and the US during the same period of time when Erdogan's Islamists have pulled Turkey away from the US and Israel.

Where does Israel fit into all this? I suspect that if there's war on two fronts, with Hizbullah attacking Israel from Lebanon with support from Syria and Iran, and with Turkey invading Kurdish territory in Iraq, all the countries surrounding Iraq will be preparing for a fragmenting of Iraq into territorial splinters. It will be much easier for Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Iran and Turkey to move into territories in Iraq in order to "protect themselves from a terrorist threat", than it would be for them to challenge the mighty Israeli military. After all, Saudi Arabia has been attacked by al Qaeda. Jordan has been attacked by al Qaeda. Turkey has been attacked by the PKK. Syria has been attacked by al Qaeda. Who knows about Iran, but they say they've been attacked, too, by the PKK, and they've fired some artillery into Kurdistan just to prove their point.

We've asked the nations surrounding Iraq to take a more active role at maintaining peace in Iraq. It would only stand to reason that they'd move some troops into the regions where they'd "take a more active role in keeping the peace". Hey, it's the Middle East. Peace looks different there than it looks like here.

When all the dust settles later this fall, Israel may very well still be intact. All the attention is likely to have gone into determining the fate of the splinters of territory that used to be Iraq. The US military may have had a nice opportunity to retreat into rural regions of Iraq, and to have redeployed into positions far from the fighting in Baghdad. We probably should be moving some of the millions of tons of equipment we have over there out of the cities and into the desert, and we should prepare to either destroy it or give it to somebody we want to have it when we bring troops back to the USA.

When it's over, Turkey may have attacked Iran's nuclear sites. Or maybe Israel will have done it. Maybe we will have done it. With all the planes and missiles flying around, it's going to be hard to keep track of whose missile actually wiped out Iranian nuclear sites, and everybody except the Ayatollahs will be glad it happened. Once it's over and done, we can have a congressional commission study it for a couple of years.

Our political position will be that such a splintering of territory in Iraq has been inevitable for decades (hasn't it?), and that we gave Iraq a chance at democratic government (that is what we did), and Iraq simply and collectively blew the opportunity we gave them (Amen to that).


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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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