Turkey calls Iraq invasion ‘imminent’

Turkey calls Iraq invasion ‘imminent’

What happened

Turkey and Iraq came a step closer to war this week after Kurdish rebels crossed the border and killed at least a dozen Turkish soldiers, and Turkish forces began shelling rebel positions. With its troops massing on the border, Turkey declared that an invasion of Iraq was “imminent” unless the Iraqi government stamped out the militant Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. This small Marxist group, based in northern Iraq, is demanding the creation of a Kurdish state that would include part of Turkey. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the Kurdish rebels “a terrorist organization,” and said Iraq would “not allow them to operate on Iraqi soil.” Iraq will be held to that promise, said Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. “We need more than words,” he said.

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Iraqi Kurds claimed that the Turkish military had sent warplanes into Iraqi territory to bomb suspected bases. But Turkish officials said their troops had shelled the Kurdish positions without crossing the border. The Bush administration warned Turkey not to go further. “A major cross-border operation would be contrary to Turkey’s interests as well as to our own and that of Iraq,” said Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

What the editorials said

The Turks are not stupid, said The Washington Post. They are well aware that a military invasion of northern Iraq would “play into the hands” of the PKK, since guerrillas would have a big advantage over an invading army in the mountainous terrain. “What Turkey really wants is to pressure the United States and Iraq into taking action.” The problem is, it’s not clear that Iraqi forces are up to the task, while U.S. commanders “are understandably loath to divert hard-pressed American units.” Surely, Turkey understands this and will show restraint.

“Unfortunately,” said the Chicago Tribune, “now is not the time to expect a sympathetic ear in Ankara.” The recent House committee vote to label as “genocide” the World War I killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks demoralized Turkish leaders and infuriated the Turkish public. That’s exactly why the PKK chose to step up its attacks now, said The Wall Street Journal. Kurdish militants “read the papers”; they know relations between Turkey and the U.S. are strained. But Turkey must not take the bait. And to help assure it doesn’t, the U.S. must get serious about ridding northern Iraq of Kurdish terrorists.

What the columnists said

Why should the U.S. kowtow to Turkish belligerence? asked Jonathan Foreman in National Review Online. The Turks have not been behaving “like a genuine ally” in Iraq. Instead, they’ve been stirring up trouble among ethnic Turkmen in oil-rich areas of Iraq and giving tacit support to Sunni insurgents. Yes, the U.S. should send troops to northern Iraq—ostensibly to control Kurdish militants. But the real purpose should be to “make it clear to the Turkish military that invasion will come at a heavy cost.”

Deterring the Turks may not be that easy, said Ralph Peters in USA Today. Turkey’s generals have their own reasons for pushing an invasion. “Humiliated” by the ascent of an Islamist-leaning government in Turkey, the army, which views itself as the defender of the secular state, thinks a war against Kurds would “rally Turks around the flag.” In truth, a Turkish invasion would be an utter disaster. If it failed, Turkey’s Islamists would only be empowered further. If it succeeded, the entire region would be destabilized. For the U.S., it’s lose-lose.

It could be lose-lose for us Turks, too, said Mustafa Karaalioglu in the Istanbul Star. That’s why—so far, at least—we are “keeping our heads” and not allowing the terrorists to “dictate what steps we will or won’t take.” There now appears to be hope for a diplomatic solution in which Kurdish militants who are killing our people will be brought to heel. As long as it appears that justice will be done, “we will be patient.”

What next?

A Turkish invasion looks to be postponed—at least for this week, said Tulin Daloglu in The Washington Times. Turkey is hosting a high-level meeting of diplomats from nations bordering Iraq on Nov. 2–3. And Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet President Bush at the White House on Nov. 5. Analysts said the meetings give Turkey a well-timed opportunity to press its case for the U.S. and Iraq to step up military action against Kurdish militants.

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