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Turkish Military Pressing Into Iraqi Kurdistan This Very Week

Reader comment on item: A Million Moderate Muslims on the March
in response to reader comment: A recipe for the survival of "secular" government in Turkey

Submitted by James Vesce (United States), Jun 6, 2007 at 17:29

Dear "Ianus", and also Rick House,

Thank you for considering my comments and responding. Hindsight being 20/20, I think we're watching the Turkish military ease into Kurdistan this week, as I attempt to explain below.

Ianus, you put it well when you characterized the choices we face: the nasty Islamist Erdogan Turkish government, or the "secularist" and frighteningly effective Turkish Military, which is 98%, Muslim - So, Now, Choose! I know they are essentially all Muslim, essentially all Sunni if I'm not mistaken. Speculating for a moment, I'd have to think that the current Islamist influence in Turkey would probably draw from roots in the Muslim Brotherhood in the first decades of the post-caliphate period. I think the only question we have about our own American situation relative to Secularist Turkey versus Islamist Turkey is "Who might be in power that will result in the most advantage to our interests, and in what way?" I think the domestic balance of political power within Turkey may very well hinge on whether or not the Turkish military goes into Kurdistan. If they go, they prevail over the Islamists led by Erdogan and Gul.

From what I've heard, mostly from some military vets who had a chance to observe and interact with Turkish military personnel at close range during unspecified past operations, Turkey has the military we should most fear in the Middle East/Central Asian region because they are extremely capable, and they are "willing", as John Plaster puts it. They have a warrior tradition that goes back centuries, and they have never lost their capacity to field fully operational massed armies that function in a coordinated, effective fashion. Unlike many other Muslim countries, they don't have stage prop militaries with a few impressive war toys that nobody knows how to operate or maintain, and the Turkish soldiers are not a gaggle of wretched beggars yanked off the street and forced into ill-fitting uniforms who can be counted on to cut and run at the first sight of pressure from a hostile force. The Turks still raise boys from the time of childhood to be professional soldiers – they just don't get the boys from Christian villages in Serbia anymore, like they did before the 1826 disbanding of the janissaries.

You both comment about the conditions under which a Turkish military incursion could occur that resulted in Turkey claiming Kurdish lands and oil. One speculates that they simply wouldn't do it, the other positing that the US would have to endorse it before they would venture in that direction. I believe a third course is actually unfolding before our eyes, albeit quite slowly: the US steps aside without making a big fuss and allows Iraq to fragment, and during that fragmentation process Turkey moves into Kurdistan. During the fragmentation process, done under a rhetorical veil of "respecting local and regional autonomy", US troops withdraw from Iraqi cities into more easily defended rural outposts, and Iraq gets carved up into shares that are claimed by the surrounding countries. One might speculate that US interests would be most favored by pitting Turkey against Iran in a competition for Kurdish lands, and by massaging the situation so that no single country surrounding Iraq winds up with an overly large share that would give it a clear economic or strategic advantage. In that way they all balance each other out, and the conflicts within Islam dominate the international stage for a few more decades while radical Islam gradually burns itself out, at least, for a while. As long as the Iraqi government is primarily Shiite and/or Sunni, that government is not going to be considerate of the Kurds or advocate for Kurdish interests.

A few days ago the mainstream media reported that Turkey was shelling Kurdish territory in Iraq in retaliation for PKK raids into Turkey. Although there has been Turkish military activity against the PKK in Kurdistan, I was under the impression that it was either covert when it involved sending Turkish personnel into Kurdish Iraq, in the case of assassinations or other covert operations (which I hear they are exquisitely skilled at), or it involved retaliation against PKK assets that were located in Turkey, or it was quiet shelling that didn't make it into the mainstream press. Isn't this just about the first time in recent memory that an overt artillery barrage across the Iraq-Turkey border has been in the mainstream news? This is wide open fighting by the uniformed Turkish military against Kurdish targets in Iraq, for all the world to see. As long as the USA is working on a surge strategy in Baghdad, and withdrawing from Baghdad, Turkey's aggression is ignored.

Now, today (6-6-07), either "hundreds" or "thousands" (depending on which report one reads) of Turkish troops have crossed the border into Iraqi Kurdistan to attack PKK in retaliation for raids into Turkey. Nouri al-Miliki's office says they have no knowledge of it. Turkey says they have no knowledge of it. The US apparently also says they have no knowledge of it. In other words, we are stepping aside. The Shiite and Sunni elements in Iraq's fledgling government are likely to maintain they are unaware, and thereby step aside. The last time there was a major Turkish troop insertion into Iraq was 1997, before the influence of a US military presence in Iraq.

Is it happening right now, the Turkish military incursion into Kurdish territories in Iraq, or isn't it? How many thousand troops do we have to see before we call it a major military presence? How many shells and tanks have to go in before the Turkish military is acknowledged to be there, at least in this discussion among us? Americans are tired of war in Iraq. I suspect that we are likely to allow the Turks to pound away at it for a while, expecting Turkey to draw Iran's attention and ire, while we recover a little from the stress.


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