November 6, 2007

Tensions Ease With Turkey

George Bush has successfully reduced the tension along the Iraq-Turkey border during his meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His promise to work with Turkey to end terrorist incursions across the border by the Kurdish guerilla group PKK has stopped talk of a cross-border invasion. Erdogan said he will "trust" Iraqi officials and Bush to meet their commitments in ending the attacks:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan left Washington reassured Tuesday after President George W. Bush called Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq a common enemy and promised greater help against them.

A large-scale Turkish incursion into northern Iraq was now unlikely, said analysts. But they saw tacit US approval for surgical strikes on rebel targets across the border in Bush's promise to provide Ankara with "real-time" intelligence on Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) movements.

Bush also announced better communication channels between the top echelons of the Turkish and US military and the top US commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. ...

"We understood each other well and agreed on the basic issues," Erdogan said Monday after his meeting with Bush, widely seen as the culmination of frantic US efforts to avert the threat of a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq.

The crisis has not completely abated. Turkey plans to keep 100,000 troops mobilized on the border to prevent any more incursions and to serve as a reminder to Iraq to keep its promises. The "surgical strikes" proposed by Turkey could enrage the Iraqi Kurd population, which could lead to even more attacks and the dreaded invasion that could touch off a five-nation war in the region.

The situation looks better than it did two weeks ago, however. With the Turkish Parliament overwhelmingly approving a military invasion to handle the PKK issue and Congress provoking the Turks with an untimely resolution about the Armenian Genocide, it looked as though the US had lost its influence with its NATO ally, and would lose at least our vital lines of communication into northern Iraq. Bush appears to have reversed the damage, at least momentarily.

We have to take very clear steps against the PKK if that is to last. The Turks have a valid complaint in this case, and they have justification for a military response to the terrorist threat against them if Iraq and the US can't stop it. The Kurds in Iraq seem to understand how much they have to lose if the Turks invade; we need to make that very clear to them in the weeks ahead. The Iraqis have to shut down the PKK, and keep them shut down.

At least we now have a window of opportunity to manage that complicated mission. Bush won us some breathing room, and the Iraqis and especially the Kurds had better make the most of it.


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