December 18, 2007

Turks Using US Intel To Hit Iraqi Targets (Update: Rice In Iraq)

If we can't stop the Turks from invading Iraq, at least we can control their target selection. That appears to be the strategy this morning, as the Turks moved in and hit at rebel bases within the autonomous Kurdish area in northern Iraq. The Bush administration has walked a tightrope for months on the increasing provocations of the PKK and the inevitable response:

The United States is providing Turkey with real-time intelligence that has helped the Turkish military target a series of attacks this month against Kurdish separatists holed up in northern Iraq, including a large airstrike on Sunday, according to Pentagon officials.

U.S. military personnel have set up a center for sharing intelligence in Ankara, the Turkish capital, providing imagery and other immediate information gathered from U.S. aircraft and unmanned drones flying over the separatists' mountain redoubts, the officials said. A senior administration official said the goal of the U.S. program is to identify the movements and activities of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which is fighting to create an autonomous enclave in Turkey.

The United States is "essentially handing them their targets," one U.S. military official said. The Turkish military then decides whether to act on the information and notifies the United States, the official said.

Iraqis reacted with predictable outrage. The Iraqi parliament condemned the air raids, and the president of the Kurdish regional government blamed the US for allowing them. Undoubtedly, the move will provoke criticism here as well, especially since the Turks didn't cooperate with our efforts during the invasion of Iraq. People will wonder why we share intel with Ankara when the Turks didn't reciprocate in 2003.

The US doesn't have much choice. The PKK has conducted terrorist attacks in Turkey, while hiding under American skirts in Iraq. We have warned Baghdad that we would not protect terrorist groups and that they had to get the PKK under control or eject them from Iraq. The Iraqis, especially the Kurds, have not shown much enthusiasm for these tasks, apparently considering "sovereignty" a benefit with no attendant responsibilities in this case.

As long as we can keep the attacks focused on the real PKK camps, we can contain the political damage. If we didn't help coordinate the targeting, the Turks would likely start hitting the wrong areas and create an even more provocative situation along the border. In this instance, we can help protect innocent lives while sending a message to the Kurds and especially the PKK: our protection extends only so far. We will not protect you from the fights that you pick yourself.

UPDATE: Condoleezza Rice goes to Iraq to tell everyone to behave themselves:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, making an unannounced visit to Iraq, urged Turkish and Iraqi leaders today to cooperate in dealing with Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq and warned Turkey against actions that cause civilian casualties or destabilize the region.

After a stop in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, about 120 miles south of an area where Turkish troops mounted an incursion early today, Rice told reporters in Baghdad that "we need an overall comprehensive approach" to the problem of armed Kurdistan Workers Party militants, who have been accused of killing more than 50 Turkish security personnel and civilians in recent months in cross-border raids. She said the United States, Turkey and Iraq have a common interest in "stopping the activities of the PKK," as the separatist group is known. ...

Rice said in a joint news conference with her Iraqi counterpart, "We made clear to the Turkish government that we continue to be concerned about anything that could lead to civilian casualties or anything that could destabilize the north." An Iraqi official said the Turkish planes attacked several villages, killing one woman, while the PKK has reported the deaths of two civilians and five militants.

The incursion and the airstrikes were strongly denounced by the Kurdistan Regional Government, which refused to meet with Rice in protest against the Turkish actions.

Don't mistake this for a Rodney King-like plea for everyone to get along. Rice will make it clear that our patience has run out on getting the PKK under control. We cannot afford to antagonize Turkey, which has a very legitimate gripe about the terrorist strikes authored by the PKK.


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