- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2005

Turkey refused to allow the United States to invade Iraq via its land. So why should U.S. troops take action against the PKK terrorists hiding in Iraq? They have done nothing against Americans, and American troops are up to their necks fighting against the Iraqi insurgency. The last thing they need is to make new enemies.

But that idea could not be more wrong.

At a time when America declared war against “terror,” it lost a NATO ally mainly because it misunderstood the terrorists that Turkey has fought for more than two decades and who have caused at least 37,000 deaths. The exceptionally high level of anti-Americanism in Turkey is related to America’s seeming indifference to Turkey’s priorities with regard to PKK terrorism.

Turks opposed the war in Iraq for much the same reasons as the French. Yet there is a Turkish expression: “being French” about something, which means not understanding what you are doing. In that sense, Turks are not at all clueless when it comes to the conflict as it relates to their own geography.

According to the State Department’s latest annual terrorism report, the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party (which also goes by the names KADEK and Kongra-Gel), demands secession in the name of the Kurdish people. “The PKK’s goal has been to establish an independent, democratic Kurdish state in southeast Turkey, northern Iraq, and parts of Iran and Syria,” the report stated.

The talk in Washington suggests that if Turkey were to support the war in Iraq, it would have no PKK problem today. However, when it came time to walk the walk, the United States did not give the Turkish government sufficient assurances that it would consider the Kurdish separatist movements a priority.

When Washington was talking about changing the status quo in the region and the future of a new Middle East, people were already wondering, since the first Gulf War led to an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, if the second one would lead to an independent one. President Bush promised that Iraq’s borders would remain intact, but Turks did not believe he could realistically give such assurances. Today, it seems they were not so wrong.

The tragedy in the lowest moments of U.S.-Turkey relations is that most Turks lost their belief that America has stood for them. Today, given the perception that Turkey’s territorial integrity is at risk, it is no longer relevant that America handed over the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to Turks when he was on the run and found at the Greek embassy in Kenya.

Since the war, the PKK has ended the ceasefire that began in 1999 and more than 150 people have been killed. PKK terror is back again.

“There are some fundamental differences in our view of the PKK,” says retired admiral John Sigler, the head of plans and policy at CENTCOM. “Turkey views this as a grave potentially existential threat, whereas the U.S. views this as a series of problems.” Precisely. Hilmi Ozkok, the chief of the Turkish General Staff, was shocked and awed by America’s isolationist thought on the PKK as only a domestic matter, calling it “thought?provoking.”A Turkey determined to be a member of the EU is taking steps to correct its human-rights record and acknowledge the cultural rights of its Kurdish people. Yet PKK terror, like al Qaeda, is not a simple law-enforcement matter.

In addition, there is the possibility that Iraq may not remain unilateral in the future. In the short term, there is no threat that the country will split apart into pieces. But in eight years, there may be. Masud Barzani, head of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, said last week that an agreement has been reached in the Iraqi constitutional process to grant Kurdish people a referendum to determine their own fate after eight years.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan reacted immediately, saying, “If there are people who target divisions in Iraq in the short or medium term, this will not only be a problem concerning Iraq.” The Chair of Kirkuk Governing Council, Ali Salhi, strongly opposes such a tone coming from Ankara. He said it is not in the Kurds’ best interest to carve out Iraqi land and call it Kurdistan. “Our cause is our country is divided to four pieces. Kurdistan’s part in Iran, part in Syria and Turkey.” He said his generation fought for the recognition of the Kurdish nation, and the next generation will be fighting for its independent homeland. I asked Salhi whether he thinks Americans will allow them to do so. “They feel strongly yes, but we have to do it in the right way,” he said.

The current course will not end with a win-win situation for the Turks and the Kurds. It does not even make a difference how many times the Iraqi, American and Turkish officials get together to discuss the matter, as they did for a second time at the State Department on Saturday. If the talks were to continue, an independent Kurdistan will be on the horizon. If not, America knows what to do.

Ms. Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. Previously she was a BBC reporter in Turkey. In 2002 she ran for a seat in Parliament as a member of the New Turkey Party.

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