Joost Hiltermann: Turkish offensive set dangerous precedent


Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Turkish military forces entered Iraq earlier this week in an attempt to root out guerrilla forces known as the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party. More than 37,000 people have been killed since the PKK launched an armed independence campaign in Turkey’s southeast in 1984. The Real News spoke earlier to Joost Hiltermann, deputy program director of the International Crisis Group for North Africa and the Middle East. So, Joost, there’s been an incursion into northern Iraq from Turkey, the main goal being, according to Turkish officials, to root out PKK guerrilla fighters. Who exactly are the PKK?

JOOST HILTERMANN, DEPUTY PROGRAM DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: The PKK is an organization that professes to represent the Kurds of Turkey and has made a number of demands over the years, including demands to secede. They’ve scaled down these demands dramatically in more recent times, when they’ve been weak and have limited themselves to asking for cultural and linguistic rights. Their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, is in prison and was imprisoned by Turkey in the late 1990s. And effectively the PKK is operating both inside Turkey in some areas, and they have bases in northern Iraq. And the recent Turkish incursion into northern Iraq is the result of the presence of the PKK in northern Iraq and the fact that they are staging attacks inside Turkey from these bases.

NKWETA: What is the situation there right now? And what implication does that have for the war in Iraq?

HILTERMANN: The Turkish government has only said that this would be an operation that is limited in scope, in scale, and in time. And the United States has urged Turkey to do exactly that, to keep the operation limited and to get out as soon as possible. My sense is that in fact the operation is fairly limited. So far it has not affected the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. The military operations have been in high, mountainous terrain, where there are few civilians. And so the impact in military terms and in terms of civilians living there is very minor. Diplomatically, on the other hand, the operation, of course, has a larger impact with both the Kurdistan regional government and the Iraqi federal government protesting the incursion. The operation is also sending a message to Iraqi Kurds, even though the operation is technically not aimed at them, but is sending a message that, you know, they ought to rein in their mission, especially with respect to, you know, their own wish to become independent down the line and to incorporate the oil-rich region of Kirkuk into the Kurdistan region. And what is happening also is that this operation couldn’t take place without a green light from Washington. And so to Iraqi Kurds it looks like the Americans are agreeing to this kind of operation. And they’re thereby also sending a message to them to be less aggressive in their ambitions to incorporate Kirkuk and to drop their rather maximalist stand on a number of issues that are being negotiated right now in Baghdad, like the oil law. The relationship between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan regional government is a bit tense. It is bound to be anyway, because the Kurds are clearly pushing for greater autonomy, if not independence. The majority of the federal government and the main parties are opposed to giving the Kurds as much power as they want. And so there’s been a tension over the issue of what are called “the disputed territories,” including Kirkuk, and there have been tensions over the oil legislation, because in this case also the Kurds are pushing for greater access to resources that they say they’ve never been entitled to, even though they were Iraqi citizens just like other Iraqi citizens. Now, if the situation gets out of hand and there’s a real conflict between Turkey and the Iraqi-Kurdish parties, and maybe even in armed engagements, then I think the plan to have greater economic cooperation between Turkey and the Kurdistan region will be postponed or will be damaged. And then that would include any commercial deals having to do with the oil exploration that is currently going on in Iraqi Kurdistan.

NKWETA: I’ve heard some reports that the Iraqi government, the coalition government right now is not necessarily happy that Washington gave this green light to Turkey to go in.

HILTERMANN: Why would they be happy? I mean, this is a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Of course they don’t like it. Oh. The Iraqi government doesn’t want the neighboring state to invade its territory, especially not with the green light from the United States, which is supposed to protect the Iraqi territory. So they’re quite upset about that. But at the same time, of course, there are parties in Baghdad who are not entirely unhappy about the fact that Turkey is sending a message to the Kurdish leaders because of the tensions that exist between the federal Iraqi government and the Kurdish leaders. So there’s a bit of a contradiction in that sense. But I think by and large no Iraqi leader wants Iraqi territory to be violated by a neighboring state. That sets a very dangerous precedent.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Turkish military forces entered Iraq earlier this week in an attempt to root out guerrilla forces known as the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party. More than 37,000 people have been killed since the PKK launched an armed independence campaign in Turkey’s southeast in 1984. The Real News spoke earlier to Joost Hiltermann, deputy program director of the International Crisis Group for North Africa and the Middle East. So, Joost, there’s been an incursion into northern Iraq from Turkey, the main goal being, according to Turkish officials, to root out PKK guerrilla fighters. Who exactly are the PKK? JOOST HILTERMANN, DEPUTY PROGRAM DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: The PKK is an organization that professes to represent the Kurds of Turkey and has made a number of demands over the years, including demands to secede. They’ve scaled down these demands dramatically in more recent times, when they’ve been weak and have limited themselves to asking for cultural and linguistic rights. Their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, is in prison and was imprisoned by Turkey in the late 1990s. And effectively the PKK is operating both inside Turkey in some areas, and they have bases in northern Iraq. And the recent Turkish incursion into northern Iraq is the result of the presence of the PKK in northern Iraq and the fact that they are staging attacks inside Turkey from these bases. NKWETA: What is the situation there right now? And what implication does that have for the war in Iraq? HILTERMANN: The Turkish government has only said that this would be an operation that is limited in scope, in scale, and in time. And the United States has urged Turkey to do exactly that, to keep the operation limited and to get out as soon as possible. My sense is that in fact the operation is fairly limited. So far it has not affected the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. The military operations have been in high, mountainous terrain, where there are few civilians. And so the impact in military terms and in terms of civilians living there is very minor. Diplomatically, on the other hand, the operation, of course, has a larger impact with both the Kurdistan regional government and the Iraqi federal government protesting the incursion. The operation is also sending a message to Iraqi Kurds, even though the operation is technically not aimed at them, but is sending a message that, you know, they ought to rein in their mission, especially with respect to, you know, their own wish to become independent down the line and to incorporate the oil-rich region of Kirkuk into the Kurdistan region. And what is happening also is that this operation couldn’t take place without a green light from Washington. And so to Iraqi Kurds it looks like the Americans are agreeing to this kind of operation. And they’re thereby also sending a message to them to be less aggressive in their ambitions to incorporate Kirkuk and to drop their rather maximalist stand on a number of issues that are being negotiated right now in Baghdad, like the oil law. The relationship between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan regional government is a bit tense. It is bound to be anyway, because the Kurds are clearly pushing for greater autonomy, if not independence. The majority of the federal government and the main parties are opposed to giving the Kurds as much power as they want. And so there’s been a tension over the issue of what are called “the disputed territories,” including Kirkuk, and there have been tensions over the oil legislation, because in this case also the Kurds are pushing for greater access to resources that they say they’ve never been entitled to, even though they were Iraqi citizens just like other Iraqi citizens. Now, if the situation gets out of hand and there’s a real conflict between Turkey and the Iraqi-Kurdish parties, and maybe even in armed engagements, then I think the plan to have greater economic cooperation between Turkey and the Kurdistan region will be postponed or will be damaged. And then that would include any commercial deals having to do with the oil exploration that is currently going on in Iraqi Kurdistan. NKWETA: I’ve heard some reports that the Iraqi government, the coalition government right now is not necessarily happy that Washington gave this green light to Turkey to go in. HILTERMANN: Why would they be happy? I mean, this is a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Of course they don’t like it. Oh. The Iraqi government doesn’t want the neighboring state to invade its territory, especially not with the green light from the United States, which is supposed to protect the Iraqi territory. So they’re quite upset about that. But at the same time, of course, there are parties in Baghdad who are not entirely unhappy about the fact that Turkey is sending a message to the Kurdish leaders because of the tensions that exist between the federal Iraqi government and the Kurdish leaders. So there’s a bit of a contradiction in that sense. But I think by and large no Iraqi leader wants Iraqi territory to be violated by a neighboring state. That sets a very dangerous precedent. DISCLAIMER: Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Joost Hiltermann

Joost Hiltermann is the Deputy Program Director, Middle East and North Africa for the International Crisis Group. He writes policy-focused reports on the factors that increase the risk of and drive armed conflict. His specialty is the crisis in Iraq.