The War on Terror 1

1Terror attacks perpetrated against Turks not included.

The heat continues to rise in the situation along Iraq’s border with Turkey:

BAGHDAD – Turkey’s foreign minister rejected any cease-fire by Kurdish rebels Tuesday as he met with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad to press them to crack down on the guerrillas. Turkish forces massed on the border and tensions rose over a threatened military incursion.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, said Iraq’s central government and authorities in its Kurdish autonomous region in the north would work together to deny the rebels freedom of movement, funds and representative offices. He said a high-level political and military delegation would travel soon to Turkey.

Iraqi officials have been saying that guerrillas with the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is known by its Kurdish acronym PKK, were based in inaccessible mountainous areas of northern Iraq.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said there are several ways to fight terrorism and Ankara would use them when appropriate. The buildup of troops along Turkey’s border with Iraq, meanwhile, continued with military helicopters airlifting commando units into the area overnight.

It seems to me there are several prospective alternatives in defusing the situation.

  • The Iraqi national government could go after the PKK bases. Representatives of the Iraqi government have said that there are no resources available for doing so. I also wonder if the Iraqi national government has the inclination to go after the PKK.
  • The Kurdish Regional Authority could go after the PKK bases. My suspicion here is that Barzani actually sympathizes with the PKK or, possibly, views it as politically expedient to turn a blind eye to PKK raids against Turkey.
  • The U. S. could go after the PKK bases. Diverting resources to chasing the PKK in the mountains of northwest Iraq would almost certainly put a crimp in “the Surge” and create an opening for whatever insurgent groups that “the Surge” has reduced to regroup and cause more trouble, further degrading political support for U. S. activities in Iraq both here and there.
  • The Iraqi national government could ask for the Turks’ assistance in controlling the PKK within Iraq. I think that this is the best solution but offhand I’d guess that most Iraqis would see this as an intolerable violation of national sovereignty and Kurds would see it as making the case for independence.
  • The Americans and the Iraqis could do nothing and quietly let the Turks eliminate the PKK bases. Although one of my commenters has noted that this may be beyond the Turks’ abilities and predicts that what’s going on is no more than saber-rattling, I suspect this is what will happen. The Turks have domestic political fires to bank at home, you know.

The Bush Administration’s phlegmatic attitude towards this matter will no doubt further weaken the case that we’re prosecuting a war on terror.

There are a couple of posts on this issue you might want to take a look at. This post at MVDG’s site summarizes the Iraqi, Turkish, and U. S. political issues at stake. Also, this editorial from Hürriyet, Turkey’s largest newspaper, is doing quite some saber-rattling—at the U. S. Thanks, House Foreign Affairs Committee.

9 comments… add one
  • You may be right about the perception of us not fighting a war on terror, but the reality is, of course, more complex. It is simply not possible to do everything at once, and in terms of the war (this or any war), it is necessary to fight in a sequence, taking the largest threats first. The PKK is, to the US, a minor threat. To Turkey, it’s a much bigger deal. We don’t have the resources to solve the problem right now, and don’t want Turkey to solve the problem because it would complicate our own problems if they do.

    The real problem, though, is that the Westphalian system is failing. We don’t have a framework for discussing unruled areas within a recognized State, such as the drug cartel-controlled areas of northern Mexico, the Zapatista-controlled areas of southern Mexico, the PKK’s camps in northern Iraq, the Pakistani frontier provinces and so on. We cannot, as a Westphalian state ourselves, seem to bring ourselves to the point of saying that Turkey has the right to intervene in northern Iraq, Israel in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the US in northern Mexico and so forth. To do so would, in the minds of our diplomats, invalidate our own territorial claims. We need a new framework for treating sovereignty according to de facto, rather than de jure, considerations. Such a position would allow for consistent application, and would resolve a lot of current problems about sovereignty and jurisdiction.

  • Dave:
    I don’t think you can blame the Turk/PKK issue on the Congress’ myopic efforts on the Armenian question. Obviously it didn’t help. But the larger problem is that the Kurds are allowing terrorists to operate from their territory. The Turkish reaction to the House committee has been over-the-top and seems to me more like a convenient way for Turks to sell politically an action they’ve wanted to take for a long time.

    By the way, I may be wrong about this, but I don’t believe the Kurds allow Iraqi national forces into their territory. If that’s so, I doubt they’d invite them in to kill fellow Kurds. And I think it would go down very badly with the Kurds if US forces took on the job – setting aside the question of whether we have the forces available. So it falls to the Peshmerga to handle this, something they’re seemingly unwilling to do.

    I think you’re probably right that we allow the Turks to take some action and lodge the usual protests. A mess all the way around.

  • Jeff, many US politicians already act as if our territorial claims are irrelevant. Note how many of them do not want to recognize that out southern border means anything, and wish to treat illegal aliens as though they were full citizens.

  • Better than full citizens, in some cases. (I don’t get in-state tuition wherever I happen to be.) But that’s really the inverse of the problem: we do control our territory effectively, if not our immigration laws.

    I meant to mention before as well that at least with the PKK we are not arming our ally’s enemy, as we are with Israel’s enemies.

  • Michael, I don’t mean to blame the Turk/PKK issue on Congress. It goes back to the founding of the PKK which has launched raids against Turkey from Iraq since 1984—long before the U. S. invasion, even long before the Gulf War.

    I just don’t think they’re contributing in a positive way to U. S.-Turkish relations, which, as the editorial I linked to pretty clearly suggests, are touchy.

    Jeff, as usual I agree with you materially. My point is that the U. S. has the most powerful military in Iraq and has responsibility for Iraqi security. Honestly, I think that’s an important outstanding question. If, as some continue to suggest, the U. S. continues to be the occupying power in Iraq, we have responsibilities there such that merely withdrawing our forces would constitute a war crime. If, on the other hand, we’re there under UN mandate and with the approval of the Iraqi government, wouldn’t it be a flouting of international law just to up and leave?

    Your point about the Westphalian system (one I’ve made myself here) leads me to think that it’s about time for a post on NGO’s, the Westphalian system, and ungoverned territories.

  • Like this?

    (That’s a large part of the reason I’ve done so little blogging lately. If I’m interested, it seems like I’ve already given my thoughts, and if they haven’t changed, I’d just be retreading the same ground.)

  • I should mention, though, that I’d dearly love to read your thoughts on the matter.

  • Yes, that’s the general direction.

    There are various forms of incapacity, however. There’s incapacity by reason of lack of concentrated power as in the John Roberts example of the gypsies. The Kurds probably follow this pattern as well.

    But there are other forms. There’s incapacity by preference or by design. I think that probably covers about half of the Third World.

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