- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As President Bush prepares to welcome Turkish President Abdullah Gul to the White House tomorrow, Ankara believes the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) was behind yet another terrorist attack inside Turkey: Thursday’s car bomb blast in the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakir killed five people, four of them high-school students, and wounded at least 68 more.

The bomb was detonated by remote control as a bus carrying Turkish soldiers was passing, and at least 30 soldiers were injured in the explosion, the bloodiest strike directed at Turkish troops since a PKK ambush Oct. 21 killed 13 soldiers. (In the past two and a half weeks, there have also been a pair of explosions in Istanbul, in which one person was killed and nine others wounded. Turkish officials believe the PKK, which has reportedly declared Turkish cities a legitimate target, was responsible for those bombings as well.) Over the weekend, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Diyarbakir to visit soldiers injured in the blast and meet with families of the bombing victims.

The Turks quite understandably believe that they are under siege from PKK terrorism, much of it coming from bases in areas of northern Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) headed by Massoud Barzani. In November, Mr. Erdogan met Mr. Bush at the White House, where the American president described the PKK as a common enemy and promised Turkey real-time U.S. intelligence on PKK operations across the mountainous border between Iraq and Turkey, and Washington accepted Turkish raids against PKK bases. In return for this support, the Turkish military promised Washington to avoid remaining overnight on Iraqi territory and to try to limit civilian casualties.

Relations between the two democratic allies were damaged by Turkey’s refusal to open a northern front five years ago when the United States led the invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Since that time, relations were further weakened by Washington’s refusal to demand that the Iraqi Kurds, particularly Mr. Barzani — who spent much of the 1990s fighting the PKK — behave responsibly and deny them safe haven in KRG-controlled territory.

Mr. Gul’s visit to Washington should serve as an opportunity to increase pressure on the Iraqi Kurds to rid themselves of the PKK — a terrorist menace that endangers Turks and Iraqis, and has the potential to do grave damage to legitimate Kurdish aspirations as well.

It’s time for Mr. Barzani to act. Turkish authorities have said they have photographs of senior PKK commanders receiving medical treatment at hospitals in Erbil and meeting with Barzani associates in nearby restaurants. And last spring, he threatened to unleash an insurgency inside Turkey. Most troubling of all, says Michael Rubin, an American Enterprise Institute scholar, is that during the Oct. 21 attack on Turkish troops, “PKK tactics mirrored those taught by U.S. Special Forces to Barzani’s peshmerga fighters, suggesting its complicity in training terrorists.”

It remains — as it should be — a priority of U.S. policy-makers to do their utmost to prevent Turkey from launching a large-scale invasion of northern Iraq to root out PKK terrorists. But it is past time for America’s allies in the Kurdistan Regional Government to do their part as well. Mr. Gul’s visit is an opportunity for Washington to remind its Iraqi Kurdish friends that the time for excuses about the PKK is running out.

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