Turkey and the Kurds

TURKEY AND THE KURDS….Matt Yglesias comments on the Turkish incursion into northern Iraq, which the Iraqi government is (a) unhappy with but (b) unable to do much about:

Given the Iraqi government’s dependence on the U.S. military, a Turkish invasion of Iraq that the United States approves of isn’t something the Iraqi government can or will do anything about. Thus this incident becomes one more case where U.S.-supported Iraqi leaders see their credibility as national leaders leeched away. If you think of the goal in Iraq as helping to prop up a government that’ll be able to stand up on its own, this sort of thing is a disaster. If, by contrast, the idea is to ensure that the authorities governing Iraq are permanently dependent on external American support to maintain their grip on power, it’s actually pretty good.

I’m not sure this is quite right. As near as I can tell, the central government in Iraq doesn’t actually care all that much about the Turkish incursion. They object in a pro forma way, of course, but that’s about it. Iraqi Kurdistan has been de facto independent since 1991, and in a practical sense the central government has neither the power nor the authority to do anything there. This would be true whether or not the U.S. withdrew from Iraq.

But it’s only the central government that’s dependent on U.S. troops. We have only a token presence in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the peshmerga forces there are decidedly capable of acting on their own if they choose to. What’s more important, then, is whether Iraqi Kurdistan leader Massoud Barzani eventually decides that enough’s enough and defies the U.S. by launching a counterattack using peshmerga troops — and that almost certainly depends on just how far the Turks go, how much pressure the U.S. brings to bear, and the state of public opinion in Kurdistan. So far he’s limited himself to warnings, but that may or may not be as far as it goes. Judah Grunstein has a bit of background here if you’re interested in the current state of play.

UPDATE: Here’s the latest:

Lawmakers in northern Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region authorized their military Tuesday to intervene if Turkish forces pursuing anti-government rebels bring their battle into civilian areas….The Kurdish regional government’s parliament held a special session Tuesday in Irbil to discuss the issue and voted to authorize the regional military force, the peshmerga, to respond if civilian areas are attacked.

But Turkey says it ain’t leaving. Stay tuned.