The Turkish-Kurdish conflict

February 22, 2008

Recorded Oct 23, 2007

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Recorded Oct 23, 2007



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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: In a 507 to 19 vote, the Turkish parliament voted on October 18 to allow its military to make an incursion into Iraq to chase down Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, conducting cross-border attacks on Turkey. Following the Turkish parliament’s approval of sending troops into Iraq, thousands of Kurds poured into the streets of northern Iraqi cities in protest. On October 21, PKK rebels attacked Turkish forces, killing at least 17 Turkish soldiers and wounding 16 others near Turkey’s border with Iraq and Iran. Eight Turkish soldiers have been taken captive by the PKK. Responding to the Sunday ambush, Turkey massed some 60,000 troops on its southeastern frontier and launched an offensive killing 32 rebels from the PKK. This Sunday’s deadly attack on Turkish soldiers prompted outrage among citizens in Istanbul. The consequences of a major Turkish incursion into Iraqi territory could transform the Iraqi conflict into an even more dangerous and destabilizing force in the entire region. And what will this conflict mean to the strategic alliance between NATO-member Turkey and the United States? To help us understand this breaking story is author, journalist, and Real News analyst Eric Margolis. What is the consequences and significance of the moment we’re in?

ERIC MARGOLIS, REAL NEWS ANALYST: Well, we can say that it’s going to be a huge mess if Turkey does go into Iraq. The ramifications are uncertain, but it’s going to be a problem for everyone involved. American forces in Iraq derive 70 percent of their air-delivered supplies through the Turkish airbase of Incirlik. And Turks, who are very nationalistic, are now calling for the airbase to be closed off and for Turkey to stop supporting the American role in Iraq, because they’re so angry at the United States for not stopping its ally, Iraq, or client state, Iraq, from doing something about the PKK *[crosstalk]

JAY: *So why don’t they do more?

MARGOLIS: Well, because the only pro-American area of Iraq or stable, quiet area is Kurdistan. It’s become a semi-independent state by now, and it runs its own armed forces. And the Iraqi Kurds are not about to do anything more than window dressing against the PKK Kurds.

JAY: Who are the players in Kurdistan? And why don’t the Americans just go after the PKK?

MARGOLIS: Well, there are actually four players in Kurdistan. First of all, the two main Kurdish tribal alliances: the KDP and the PUK. Each is led by a charismatic tribal leader, one Barzani, the other Talabani, and their sons and cousins and nephews.

JAY: Talabani’s the current president of Iraq.

MARGOLIS: He’s the president of Iraq. For years and years they were rivals and used to fight with each other under Saddam Hussein. But now they’re allied in an effort to produce an independent Kurdistan. But there are two other parties. There’s the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has come over from Turkey and is fighting the Turks, and they’re based in Iraq along the Turkish border. And there’s another Kurdish party, which is the Kurdish party for the liberation of Kurds in Iran. And they are launching attacks from inside Iraq against Iran and fighting Iranian troops along the border.

JAY: But the PKK, which is the organization accused of sending its soldiers into Turkey and is launching the most aggressive attacks on Turkish soil, why don’t the Americans go after the PKK? ‘Cause there’s no love lost between the PKK and the organizations working with the US, including Talabani.

MARGOLIS: That’s right. In fact, Washington has put the PKK on the terrorist list. It’s been there for a long time. Problem for the Americans is they’re afraid if they go after the PKK as Turkey is demanding and has been demanding, that they will then cause an uproar with their only allies in Iraq, the Kurds, the Talabanis, and the PUK, and the KDP, and they don’t want to upset the applecart in Kurdistan. And they don’t have any more troops to spare to get involved with the PKK, who are a very tough bunch and far more militarily capable than the other Iraqi resistance forces.

JAY: The PKK emerged out of an organization that used to consider itself socialist and you could describe as having progressive political ideals. It seems primarily just a nationalist group now. But the PKK has done its own calculation of the political forces. They almost seem to be wanting to draw Turkey into an incursion.

MARGOLIS: Paul, I agree with you entirely. The attacks this week were clearly provocative, and they were clearly aimed at drawing Turkey into an attack against Iraq. And the reasoning behind the PKK thinking as I see it is that American troops will come in, and if they do, they’ll push aside the Kurdish peshmergas, the Kurdish militias, and they’ll get involved in a big brawl up there, and eventually the Americans will end up getting involved, and the PKK is hoping against the Turkish army, to drive them back out of Iraq. And let’s also remember another factor, that just across the border from Turkey are some of Iraq’s major oil-producing regions, which once belonged to the Ottoman Empire and were seized away by the British at the end of World War I. And a lot of Turks who don’t have any oil in that country are saying, “We could be a great regional power if we had oil, and all we have to do is push a Turkish army about 20 or 30 miles across the border, and the oil in Mosul and Kirkuk is ours.

JAY: And for the Kurds, to control Kirkuk—there’s a referendum coming by the end of 2007 that will decide whether Kirkuk stays under the central Iraqi authority or becomes part as more under a Kurdistan authority. And, of course, there’s tremendous resources at stake here. If I understand it correctly, Kirkuk is the center of oil in that area.

MARGOLIS: Absolutely. And the Kurds are determined to get control of all the oil in their region. And this will form the basis of their independent state. There’s another player in the region, too, who’s involved in it, and that is Israel. The Israelis have been discreetly lending a tremendous amount of support to the Kurdish independent mini-state, because they want to see Iraq broken up, and they see the Kurds as natural allies. In fact, the Israelis were arming the Kurds as far back as the 1970s. They’ve resumed doing that. And now there’s talk in Israel amongst Israel’s right-wing parties of rebuilding a long-discussed oil pipeline from Kurdistan to Haifa.

JAY: And then add to that Syria’s statement last week that they support Turkey if they invade Iraq. I guess Syria has their own Kurdish question.

MARGOLIS: They do indeed. And then there’s the issue of Iran, because the United States classifies the PKK as terrorists. But the Kurds who are in Iraq attacking Iran are not classified as terrorists by Washington. Apparently when you attack Iran, and as there are Pakistani and Kurdish groups doing it, this is good; but when you attack an American ally, this is terrorism.

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