March 15, 2007

US Curbs Kurds

Responding to Turkey's complaints about PKK involvement in Kurdish guerilla attacks, the US has quietly pressured the Iraqi government and the Kurdish sector in Iraq to throttle support for the terrorist group. The issue threatened to bring Turkish troops streaming across the Iraqi border in retaliation for attacks and destabilizing the one portion of Iraq that has rebuilt itself:

The United States is dealing with Turkish complaints about Kurdish separatists operating in northern Iraq and has not ruled out military action against the rebels, the U.S. official assigned to handle the problem says.

Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, a special envoy tasked with countering the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview that U.S. pressure has resulted in moves against the group's operations by Iraqi and European authorities.

Turkish officials repeatedly have accused the United States of insufficient efforts to prevent attacks into Turkey from Iraq by the PKK, which has waged a guerrilla war for autonomy since 1984 at a cost of 37,000 lives. Turkey also has threatened military incursions into Iraq against the rebels, which the United States fears would alienate Iraqi Kurds, the most pro-American ethnic group in the region. ...

Ralston said negotiators from the United States, Turkey and Iraq are close to a deal to close a Kurdish refugee camp in northern Iraq that Turkey says is a haven for the PKK. In late January, U.S. and Iraqi forces searched the camp, known as Makhmur, and found artillery shells they believe belonged to the PKK, Ralston said.

He said PKK fighters have held a cease-fire since October that was arranged by Masoud Barzani, leader of Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region, after a discussion with Ralston.

This agreement would, if implemented, end one of the most troublesome problems facing the US in Iraq. The insurgencies can be defeated, if we have the will and the proper commander in place to do so. We could not stop the Turks from flooding across the northern frontier in Iraq, however, and the result of such an invasion would create a firestorm that would require hundreds of thousands of troops to quell -- if we could get them in there.

Ralston repeated the State Department's assessment of the PKK as a terrorist group, which puts a large responsibility on the US to shut them down. So far, our pressure has brought almost six months of peace in Turkey, or at least six months in which attacks did not originate out of Iraq. The camp in question still operates, however, and the Turks want it shut down permanently

The central government in Baghdad banned the PKK, with the reluctant assent of the Kurds, and shut down their offices. Some have reopened under different names, Ralston told the AP, and they will have to work hard to shut them down as well. France and Belgium rounded up dozens of PKK agents attempting to raise funds there instead last year.

Ralston has worked hard to keep the flashpoint from igniting with Turkey, and for good reason. The Turks and the Kurds have been fighting for over twenty years over Kurdish autonomy in that country. The success of Kurdish autonomy in Iraq has fueled Kurdish desire for a de facto Kurdistan, but we cannot allow terrorism to operate under any pretenses in the new Iraq -- not if we want to keep the Turks out of it.


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