Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Iraq's Other Hot Border
Yesterday I mentioned that things are heating up on Turkey's border with Iraqi Kurdistan, with violent clashes breaking out over the weekend between the Turkish Army and the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). Today, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, phoned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to apologize for threats made in the press by Kurdish Provincial President Massoud Barzani.
That didn't prevent Erdogan from filing a formal diplomatic letter of complaint with the Iraqi government, threatening diplomatic and economic sanctions, as well as "other approaches", if nothing is done to rein in the PKK, which Turkey claims uses Iraqi Kurdistan as a base for launching attacks across the Turkish border.
The American press finally seems to be picking up on the story, with NPR posting a to-be-aired report titled "Turkey, Kurds Move Toward All-Out Fighting", with the following lede:
Western governments are struggling to restrain Turkey back from a possible cross-border incursion into northern Iraq, where tensions have escalated with Kurds.
For various reasons, including the headstart on self-government they got with the Autonomous Region and no-fly zones, as well as the relative homogeneous nature of their population, the Kurds have managed to avoid the chaos that's overrun the rest of Iraq. As a result, they tend to be left out of the media picture, or else portrayed as the "good" Iraqis.
But stable does not necessarily mean responsible. And between harboring the PKK, which is on the State Department's list of known terrorist organizations, and developing close security contacts with Iranian intelligence operatives, there seems to be more than enough evidence that the Kurds are gaming the current situation as much as anyone.
The Kirkuk referendum, preceded by the relocation of Arabs and Turkmen who were settled in the city by Saddam Hussein, is a major priority for Iraqi Kurds. It also happens to be a major irritant to Turkey, which believes a Kurdish Kirkuk is the first step towards an independent Kurdistan.
So far, the only solution has been to postpone the referendum. But it's a problem that can't be put off forever. Something to keep in mind while evaluating the overall prospects for Iraq's future.