- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Kurdish problem

The U.S. ambassador in Ankara yesterday warned the Turkish government against invading northern Iraq to stop cross-border attacks on Turkish troops by Kurdish rebels, but the Turkish prime minister accused the United States of hypocrisy and asserted a right to crush the militants.

“We have repeatedly said that we believe that unilateral military action across the border with Iraq would be unwise,” Ambassador Ross Wilson told Turkey’s NTV news station.

Mr. Wilson said the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) pose a threat beyond Turkey, which has been fighting the PKK since the late 1980s in its quest for a Kurdish homeland in parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

“The PKK is not just a northern Iraq problem. It’s a problem in Europe, and it’s a problem in Turkey,” Mr. Wilson said.

“Going to deal with the PKK in northern Iraq will not solve the problem. It will not lead to what we or Iraq or Turkey want to see, which is the termination of these terrorist activities and the termination of the death and suffering that the people of Turkey have faced.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed Mr. Wilson’s warning and complained that the Bush administration should support Turkey as it is supporting Israel in its war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. The United States has listed the PKK as a terrorist organization.

“Terrorism is terrorism everywhere,” Mr. Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul after Mr. Wilson’s television interview. “It is not possible to agree with a mentality that tolerates country A and displays a different attitude with it comes to country B.”

The prime minister added that Turkey is running out of patience. Fifteen Turkish soldiers were killed in five days of fighting last week with the PKK, which raided Turkey from bases in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region.

“At the end of the day, we know how to take care of our problems,” he said. “The competent authorities are working accordingly. We keep ourselves ready against possible developments.”

Turkey raised the possibility of unilateral action on Monday and called Mr. Wilson and Iraq’s ambassador to Turkey, Sabah Umran, to the Foreign Ministry to complain about the attacks.

“The terrorist organization has found shelter and life in the north of Iraq, and it is a fact that it is troubling Turkey and spilling blood in Turkey by taking advantage of that,” a government spokesman told reporters in Ankara after a Cabinet meeting.

Kirkuk cauldron

The International Crisis Group (ICG) fears that the Iraqi city of Kirkuk could fall into chaos unless the Kurds and their ethnic rivals vying to control the oil-rich region settle their disputes.

“As all eyes are turned toward efforts to stabilize Iraq, the conflict that has been percolating in Kirkuk remains dangerous and dangerously neglected,” the group said in a study titled “Iraq and the Kurds: The Brewing Battle Over Kirkuk.”

“That struggle is equal parts street brawl over oil riches, ethnic competition over [the city’s] identity among Kurdish, Turkmen, Arab and Assyrian-Chaldean communities, and titanic clash between two nations, Arab and Kurd.”

Saddam Hussein, who was ousted as Iraq’s leader by U.S.-led forces in 2003, is responsible for much of the current conflict because he forcibly relocated Kurds from Kirkuk and moved Arabs in to control the oil fields, which produced as much as a million barrels of oil a day. Many Kurds who have moved back want to see Kirkuk as the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous Region in northern Iraq.

“To the other communities, the Kurdish claim is counterfeit, inspired primarily by a greedy appetite for oil, and they view the progressive Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk as an outrage,” the study said.

The ICG proposed that the United Nations appoint a special envoy to mediate among the ethnic rivals and to postpone a referendum scheduled for next year on the future of the city.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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