Friday, November 30, 2007
When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Bush in Washington to discuss the PKK three weeks ago, northern Iraq was in a state of high alert, with rumors of war swirling and tensions at the boiling point. At the outcome of the meeting, President Bush had promised to take concrete steps to address Turkey's grievances, and Prime Minister Erdogan basically agreed to hold off on plummeting the only stable region in Iraq into conflict and chaos.
So where do things stand now? Kind of a mixed bag. On the positive side, Germany just extradited two PKK militants back to Turkey, which is a strong symbolic gesture considering that one of Turkey's grievances was that no one seemed to be taking their terrorist problem very seriously. In particular, the Turks had complained about western European countries allowing known agents of the PKK to operate with relative impunity, despite the PKK being on the EU's list of terrorist organizations.
It also seems like the Iraqi Kurds, and in particular hardliner Massoud Barzani, have actually decided to crack down hard on the PKK, setting up checkpoints along the arteries leading south from their mountain camps to prevent them from re-supplying. As a result, a report last week had the PKK attempting to re-locate their base of operations into Iran. But since the environment is no less hostile there, another report today suggested they are trying to move their camps to an Armenian-controlled region in Azerbaijan.
Both of these developments, when combined with American forces providing the Turkish special forces with actionable real time intelligence, would seem to have obviated the need for a Turkish cross-border operation.
So why a mixed bag? Because despite the progress, the Turkish Prime Minister's office two days ago authorized the army to conduct just such an operation. You'll remember that the Turkish parliament authorized the use of force last month, which is what brought this lingering crisis to the front burner. Erdogan's authorization could be interpreted as the final green light the military needed before engaging in an operation of their choosing.
There's no guarantee they will actually do so. The Kandil mountains where the PKK bases are located are already a difficult theater of operations. Everything I've read indicates that the winter weather makes them all but impenetrable. On the other hand, perhaps the Turkish military is motivated by the desire to pen the PKK in before they have a chance to re-locate their bases. Either way, this situation just went from "wait-and-see" to "keep your eyes peeled".