Kurds At War: Turkey, Iraq, and Iran

22 Oct

The latest news on the Kurds’ fight for independence from and/or autonomy from Turkey threatens to drag the U.S. into a conflict (or at least an argument) that it neither wants nor needs right now. Though it may also prove the spark that sets the whole region aflame.

The Kurdish resistance forces fighting the Turkish government call themselves the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a group formed in the late 1970s which took up arms against the Ankara government in 1984.  The PKK has long enjoyed a safe haven in northern Iraq, which is home to the closest thing the Kurds have to an actual country.  The PKK recently killed a dozen Turkish soldiers in southeastern Turkey (aka Turkish Kurdistan), prompting the Turkish government to threaten an invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan in an attempt to root out the PKK bases there.  It should be noted that in recent weeks, Iran has been shelling the bases of its own Kurdish resistance movement, called Kurdish Party of Free Life in Kurdistan (PEJAK).  Those bases are also located in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The problem for the United States is that the Iraqi Kurds are America’s only real allies in Iraq, and they have set up a thriving enclave of freedom and relative prosperity for themselves in the post-Saddam era.  An era that is possible only due to the military and diplomatic protection offered by the United States.  Of course, if one looks at history, it is clear that the U.S actually owes the Kurds quite a bit for America’s past betrayals of the Iraqi Kurds. 

In the 1970s, the CIA, along with the Shah of Iran (pre-Islamic Republic, of course), supported the Kurds in their long struggle against Saddam’s tyranny; until it no longer remained in America’s or Iran’s best interest to support them. In 1975, Saddam and the Shah (two thoroughly undemocratic despots) struck a deal that settled some old border disputes between them, and the Shah and his CIA buddies quickly shut off the flow of arms to the Kurds, and denied them border bases from which to fight Baghdad.  Saddam then crushed the Kurds.  In the 1980s, Saddam was at war with the post-Shah Iran and the Kurds rose up once again in their struggle for freedom.  Saddam gassed them.  Since Iraq was temporarily America’s ally against Iran, not much was said in Washington about this act of genocide.  Then, in the ultimate act of hypocrisy, the first Bush Administration, which normally got things right in the foreign policy department, encouraged both the northern Kurds and the southern Shiites to rise up against Saddam, but then stood by while his elite and ruthless  Republican Guard, which largely escaped the thrashing by the Allies in Kuwait, crushed both revolts while America’s huge army in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia stood by and did nothing.

So, what does the history of Iraq’s brutality towards Iraqi Kurds and America’s continual betrayal have to do with Turkey’s movements along the border with Iraqi Kurdistan?  Consider that Turkey is a long-time American ally, as are the Iraqi Kurds.  A war between them will greatly damage America’s interests in the region, endanger American forces, and serve as a huge failure of American diplomacy in the region.  And, if the U.S. stands by and lets Turkey attack across the border, what justification will the Bush Administration have if Iran decides to do the same thing to punish PEJAK?

Now, those who are of a mind to think of conspiracies, it is possible that this scenario is exactly what President Bush (or more likely, Vice-President Cheney) have in mind to occur.  Regardless of the hypocrisy of allowing one attack (by the Turks), and then responding militarily to another attack (by Iran), such a cross-border incursion by Tehran, even in a "legal" hot-pursuit situation, could provide the casus belli that some in Washington seek in order to attack Iran and end the embryonic nuclear threat posed by the Islamic Fascists in Tehran.

The Kurds, who are the world’s largest ethnic group without a country to call their own, are once again caught in the cross-fire of Middle East politics, and the confused dynamics of American foreign policy.

Links of Interest:

Who are the PKK?–National Public Radio, Oct. 22, 2007

Kurdish Secessionism Looms Over the Middle East–Robert Lindsay: Independent Left Journalist From California,May 11, 2006

Iranians shell anti-Iranian Kurdish PEJAK guerrillas in Iraqi Kurdistan–Kurd Net, May 23, 2007 


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