Turkey and the Kurds

TURKEY AND THE KURDS….A couple of people have been bugging me recently to pay more attention to Turkey and the Kurds, and they have a point. The background is pretty straightforward: There are Kurds in northern Iraq and Kurds in southern Turkey (as well as Syria and Iran), and Kurdish nationalist parties have long believed that ethnic Kurds from these countries should break away and form an independent Kurdish nation. Needless to say, though, the Turks are not excited about losing a big chunk of their country.

Sporadic fighting has been going on for years, with Kurdish separatists/terrorists (depending on who you talk to) crossing over into Turkey and Turkey fighting them off. What’s brought it to a more feverish pitch than usual lately is something I’ve written about once or twice before: an election coming up later this year in Kirkuk, an oil-rich city in northern Iraq, that will determine whether or not Kirkuk becomes part of Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey has made noises in the past about preventing Kurds from controlling Kirkuk (because the region’s oil wealth could help fund the separatist movement), and on Saturday Iraqi Kurdish Provincial President Massoud Barzani issued an unveiled warning:

Turkey is not allowed to intervene in the Kirkuk issue and if it does we will interfere in Diyarbakir’s affairs and other cities in Turkey.

Against the backdrop of a major Turkish counterattack against Kurdish guerrillas operating in southeast Turkey, Turkey’s prime minister shot back: “They should be very careful in their use of words…otherwise they will be crushed by those words.” Then the Turkish army escalated the rhetoric further:

Turkey’s army chief called Thursday for a military incursion into neighbouring northern Iraq to hunt down Turkish Kurd rebels based there, despite US objections.

….”If you ask me whether a cross-border operation is needed, yes it is needed,” said Buyukanit, though he added that it would require parliamentary authorisation.

“If the armed forces are given this mission, they are strong enough to carry out such operations,” he said.

More background here. The upshot? Who knows? The United States would like Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds to work together to rein in Kurdish guerrillas, but that’s not especially likely. It’s also possible that the Kirkuk election could be postponed, but it’s not clear if that’s possible or if it would do any good anyway. For now, it’s just worth keeping in mind that Baghdad and the Sunni triangle aren’t the only places in Iraq where open warfare is a distinct possibility. As Judah Grunstein put it, “File this one under ‘Things That Haven’t Gone Majorly Wrong In Iraq But Still Could’.”