What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Northern Iraq and the PKK

The MStFB Spillover Monitor Report Series No. 9
On May 5 TDN (Turkish Daily News) reported one Turkish soldier killed in southeastern Hakkari Province, after stepping on a mine supposedly laid by the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers' Party), as well as the death of two PKK insurgents in a separate incident, in Şırnak Province. Today Radio Free Europe reported an eventually higher final tally for yesterday: two Turkish soldiers and five insurgents killed. TDN calls on-going military operations part of "an annual spring offensive by the Turkish military trying to catch or kill PKK members crossing into Turkey from mountain hideouts in northern Iraq".
The problem is not new, as the words quoted should immediately suggest to you. Already in the 1980s, ever since the PKK insurgency started, Turkey had a problem with Northern Iraq. Historically not many insurgencies have survived without some rear-bases they could retreat to, to get resupplied, regroup, train and organise there, and the PKK in Northern Iraq had such rear bases given that Iraqi forces were tied down along the frontline with Iran, mostly in the south, fighting the real 'Gulf War One' (as opposed to the 1991 Gulf War 'Two'). Back then Iraq, according to some sources, even formally OK'd Turkish action against the PKK inside Iraq. 1991 brought a new opportunity for Kurdish guerrillas from Turkey, as the Hussein regime in Iraq has all but formally abandoned its northern, predominantly Kurdish-inhabited areas. By 1997-1999 Turkey managed to corner the PKK, though, using even the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) in Iraq as an ally and a proxy against them, while also carrying out some massive incursions itself into Northern Iraq, and maintaining a rather permanent military presence there - according to e.g. Human Rights Watch, or, for example, Philip Robins, a U.S. scholar, in his book 'Suits and Uniforms...' (I'm quoting these sources, because Turkey officially tended to deny most of the latter claims.) And Turkey even got to capture PKK leader Öcalan. A truce was thus eventually reached. Things changed again in 2003, with the Americans coming to Iraq, minding all sorts of business other than issues in Northern Iraq, with the calm they had there.
So, here's the extent of the current Iraqi spillover. The U.S. classifies the PKK as a terrorist group, so for official U.S. stats on the PKK issue, you may look into an official U.S. report on terrorism. Well, it's not as simple as that. There's not one such global report since 2004 (part of an effort by the U.S., arguably, to get a better picture in the numbers war over its war against terrorism, even if the current substitute document does have a strategic assessment part - a rather carefully worded one at that). There is, since then, the compilation called 'Country Reports on Terrorism'. The section on Iraq for 2006 offers these remarks on the PKK issue: "To demonstrate that the Iraqi government does not wish to allow Iraq to become a safe haven for terrorist organizations, Prime Minister al-Maliki appointed the Minister of State for National Security, Shirwan al-Waeli, as the Iraq coordinator for issues involving the Kurdistan Workers Party (Kongra-Gel/PKK), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. Tension between Turkey and the Iraqi government increased as Turkish leaders expressed increasing frustration at what they viewed as Iraq's inaction against the PKK". The section, also from 2006, on Turkey, for which you have to go from the Middle East and North Africa overview to the Europe and Eurasia overview, includes much more: "Most prominent among terrorist groups in Turkey is the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), subject to regular name changes, currently operating as Kongra-Gel (KGK/PKK). Composed primarily of Kurds with a historically separatist agenda, the KGK/PKK operated from headquarters in part of northern Iraq and directed forces to target mainly Turkish security forces, government offices, and villagers who opposed the KGK/PKK. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a group affiliated with the KGK, assumed responsibility for attacks on resort areas in southern and western Turkey, an attack on the office of a political party, and the bombing of a minibus carrying schoolchildren. KGK/PKK attacks against Turkey increased significantly and claimed as many as 600 lives in 2006. In October, the KGK/PKK declared a unilateral cease-fire that slowed the intensity and pace of its attacks but attacks continued in response to Turkish security forces significant counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations, especially in the southeast". (The chapter, in the U.S. report, on 'terrorist safe havens', basically repeats the remarks from the Iraq section, rather than the ones from the Turkey section.)
This situation is potentially embarrassing for the U.S., given that it usually expects full cooperation in the war on terrorism by every country on the planet. Strategically it's not difficult to understand, of course, that they don't feel an urge to run into problems in Northern Iraq, too, with the problems they face elsewhere in that country. And so it's not surprising that they wouldn't welcome a Turkish incursion, either. This article says sources in Washington even told Turkey to "learn a lesson from Israel's 'strategic defeat' in Lebanon". Head of the Turkish military's General Staff Yasar Buyukanit on April 13, this year, hinted at a possible Turkish incursion, running into what one could call 'resistance coupled with understanding' on the U.S. side. Turkey can't afford not to address the U.S. of course. And so this is a very similar headache for the U.S. as the one it is facing in the case of the Pakistani tribal areas which Talib insurgents are using for a rear base. One difference is, of course, that here a U.S. ally is on the receiving end of a threat from areas for which nominally the U.S. is mainly responsible, unlike in the Pakistani-Afghan case, where these roles are reversed among the U.S. and its ally Pakistan there. For one big similarity, though, one could point to there being a Pashtunistan and a Kurdistan question - a similar source of, well, complications, to say the least, in the two cases.
This definitely is another situation to be monitored.

No comments: