Wednesday, June 6, 2007
According to Turkish "security officials" cited in an AP report, hundreds of Turkish special forces supported by thousands of regular troops crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan in a "hot pursuit" operation against PKK guerillas who fired on a Turkish patrol from within Iraqi territory. Although Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and an Iraqi military commander in charge of border control denied the report, the unnamed officials stood by the claim. The forces reportedly pursued the guerillas a few miles inside the Iraqi border, and were back at their base within Turkish territory by the end of the day.
I've been doing some research on the Turkey-PKK conflict in preparation for an article I'm working on, and it actually turns out that this sort of tension on the border is almost a yearly event. Every spring, the PKK mounts an offensive, and the Turkish army masses troops on the border in an effort to fight it back.
During the nineties, when the Kurdish north enjoyed autonomous status, the Turkish army conducted cross-border incursions on several occasions. In 1995, for instance, 35,000 Turkish troops supported by armored divisions and helicopter cover, crossed into Iraqi territory to attack the PKK camps located in the mountainous border region.
To sum up, the potential consequences of an outbreak of hostilities between Turkey and the Kurds are all very damaging to regional stability and American interests in the Iraq theater. That means there are a lot of disincentives to anything actually happening. This is still one to watch. But the fact that for the time being all the right people are denying today's report is an encouraging sign.
Update: According to a report in The New Anatolian, two Turkish military helicopters, one that was either hit by enemy fire or developed a mechanical problem and another that provided cover, were forced to land inside Iraqi territory on Monday:
"Iraq Kurdish officials said there were no Kurdish forces or a base in 'the very remote area" but local commanders were asked by Erbil to extend any assistance required by the Turkish military."
Which leads me to believe that some sort of deal for limited cross-border operations has been struck, as long as everyone denies they've ever taken place.