There is every indication that we are entering a critical period in Turkey's outlook toward Iraq and more specifically regarding the presence of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK ) there. The effects of the recent heinous bombing attack on Ankara and the deaths of six Turkish soldiers due to PKK terrorist acts in the Southeast last week are compounded by the tense political atmosphere domestically. Patience has run out. At this point, a Turkish operation into northern Iraq is only a matter of time. The decision to eradicate the PKK menace present in northern Iraq has been made with determination. The only complications emanate from the upcoming general elections and the potential impact of such an operation. Neither the fragile talks brokered by the E.U. nor our relations with Washington provide any sort of restraint.
[Editor's Note: The Kurdistan Workers' Party is a militant group that seeks a Kurdish state within Turkish territory, that was founded in the 1970s and was led, until his capture in 1999, by Abdullah Öcalan (See Photo, right). Turkey charges that the group - which it has been trying to sideline and eradicate for years - is launching attacks from the Iraqi Kurdish region and is being protected by the government there.]
Needless to say, most of Ankara's decision makers are perfectly well-aware that the domestic problem with the PKK and the issue of the Kurds in general will not be solved by an operation in northern Iraq.
That being said, it's time that Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and his men understand that they are Turkey's neighbors. As long as the Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP, the ruling party in Northern Iraq ] harbors the PKK or allows it to operate on its territory, they share responsibility for the deaths of Turkish soldiers. Events over the past year show that Barzani and his entourage have not gotten the message, or that they simply don't want to act on this matter. Despite our policies of restraint these last four years, recent events now demand a stance that will make Barzani understand that we mean business.
The frenetic activity within foreign embassies in Ankara to try and understand the situation shows that a realization of this has begun to dawn elsewhere. Along with news that two [U.S.] F-16s violated Turkish airspace Sunday evening, Turkish troop movements on the Iraq border were reported and statements by officials with the Kurdistan Democratic Party point to the increased likelihood of a Turkish operation sweeping into northern Iraq.
The sustainability of the current situation was always in doubt, but the belief in Washington that a fine balance between Ankara and Arbil [capitol of Iraqi Kurdistan] could be maintained has proven a fallacy. This is especially true in view of Barzani's irresponsible statements and the rise in PKK violence against Turkish targets.
Ultimately, Washington's current fixation with Iraq and the priority it has given to the Kurds will doom Turkish-American relations for decades to come. History will record that the Bush Administration's disastrous policies in Iraq put an end to the U.S.-Turkish alliance. Worse still, there are still 18 months before the next administration takes office. Given the Bush team's preference for Kurds over Turks, much can happen before then, which makes me even more pessimistic about future relations.
I don't know how often or how loudly it has been expressed, but the bottom line is that the PKK must leave northern Iraq! Either Barzani must tell them to pack up and go and cut off all communication and cooperation with them, or he must brace himself for the consequences. It's as simple as that. It's true that a Turkish operation is likely to increase violence within Turkey as well, but with the Ankara bombing last week, I believe we have crossed a critical threshold. Not even the question of whether an attack would bring progress matters any longer.
Turkey is willing to engage with a Kurdish regional entity, but first the PKK menace must be removed from the equation. Turkey simply cannot engage with Barzani while Turkish soldiers are being killed by PKK terrorists trained and harbored in northern Iraq.
We are approaching a critical turning point in Turkey's policy in regard to northern Iraq. Washington still has the means to pressure Barzani to make the right choice. Barring that, we're in for a very eventful and troubled period in the region. Let's hope that we see true leadership on all sides to head off this perfect storm.