Saturday, February 23, 2008
Barzani Draws The Line
There are conflicting reports about just how many troops Turkey has sent into northern Iraq, with the general trend being bearish. Initial Turkish TV reports (passed on by the press) put the number at 10,000, citing unnamed military sources. Reuters put the number at 8,000, or two Turkish brigades. Later television reports lowered it further to 3,000, which the Iraqi government today bid down to 1,000, only to be undersold by the American military command in Iraq which claimed that only a few hundred Turkish troops took part. The Turkish military, meanwhile, closed the bidding by warning that "media reports about the scope of the operation were misleading and exaggerated." (If this keeps up, look for reports of a Kurdish incursion into Turkey by tomorrow.)
To my eyes the real story here is still the confrontation between armored troops from Turkey's FOB near Dihok and Kurdish Peshmerga forces. As you can see for yourself with the magic of Google Earth, the Turkish operation has all the hallmarks of a flush and gather operation. (Move out one click and Dihok should appear in the lower lefthand corner of the map. Reports have located the incursion across the Iraqi border from Cukorka, which is in the upper righthand corner. The Turkish FOB is 25 miles northeast of Dohuk, or not far from the pinhead in the center of the map.) The Iraq-based Turkish forces that were turned back by the Peshmerga were in all likelihood prevented from intercepting the PKK who according to Turkish military reports are fleeing towards the south.
KRG President Massoud Barzani immediately left for Dihok to monitor the situation from very close by, while his office released the following statement:
The regional government of Kurdistan will not be a part of the conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK fighters. But at the same time we stress that if the Turkish military targets any Kurdish civilian citizens or any civilian structures then we will order a large-scale resistance.
For Turkey, it's a fine line to walk, since the PKK is a guerilla group with popular support in the area. But the fact that the Peshmerga stepped in to keep the Turkish forces on their "observer" bases suggests that Barzani means business.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.