- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2007


The Bush administration has walked a diplomatic tightrope dealing with Turkey and its struggle against the violent separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein four years ago, the PKK has been a resurgent force, operating, Turkey believes, from camps in Northern Iraq. So far, the United States has convinced Turkey to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and not pursue military operations into the country. But several factors are wearing on Turkey’s willingness to hold back.

Turks consider PKK terrorism a very pressing issue, and frustration with government inability to curb PKK attacks reflects poorly on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) — as well as the United States, which is seen as blocking direct Turkish action.

Mr. Erdogan and the AKP have a weak record against PKK terrorism, and AKP’s political opponents, particularly the Nationalist Action Party, have sought to capitalize on the issue. Facing a parliamentary election on July 22, AKP leadership may be looking to prove its toughness on the PKK issue.

Pressure is also coming from the Turkish military. The military has repeatedly urged cross-border operations into Northern Iraq; in April Turkey’s top military leader, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, said unequivocally that “an operation into Iraq is necessary.” Mr. Erdogan has opposed this course of action. Tensions between the military leaders and their civilian counterparts have been high since the military effectively blocked the appointment of Abdullah Gul, Mr. Erdogan’s foreign minister, as AKP’s presidential candidate in late April.

Turkey also fears the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish state in Northern Iraq — a development that it fears would bolster the push for autonomy, or independence, in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.

The Bush administration has emphasized cooperation between Turkey and Iraq while warning Turkey against any cross-border military action. More than a year ago, the State Department appointed a special envoy to coordinate U.S. and Turkish efforts against the PKK. Such diplomatic reassurances and calls for cooperation may no longer assuage Turkish anxieties. Iraq’s foreign minister claimed yesterday that Turkey had moved close to 140,000 troops to its border with Iraq. That figure may or may not be accurate, but reports confirm that Turkish troops have been massing along the border for several weeks. A Turkish incursion would disrupt the most stable and peaceful part of Iraq.

Understanding how serious a problem PKK terrorism is for Turkey, particularly when considered through the filter of recent events, Washington needs to work with Iraq’s Kurdish leadership to prove to Turkey that military intervention is not needed. High-profile arrests or raids on suspected PKK camps might help persuade Ankara. Turkish military action appears disconcertingly possible, and its repercussions would be felt throughout Iraq.

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