Wednesday, June 06, 2007

What is Happening in Iraqi Kurdistan?

This morning, I heard a report on NPR that there was a raid by Turkish troops into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Now, as seen here at Talking Points Memo, both the Kurds and the US State Department are saying either (a) the incursion is over, or (b) it never happened in the first place. This raises all sorts of questions, which in their turn beg others, not the least of which is this: Wasn't this predicted as part of destabilizing Iraq? In fact, wasn't this little complication part of the constant worry over the invasion, and part of the reason the Turks refused to allow part of the US Army to stage an invasion of Iraq from their territory?

The US has been playing a dangerous game by trying to keep Iraqi Kurds safe by providing them with a semi-autonomous state-within-a-state in northern Iraq while supporting NATO ally Turkey, which has a long history of slaughtering ethnic minorities, including its own substantial Kurd population. For years, a quiet civil war has occurred in Turkey, with American complicity, against the Kurds, with the terrorist group the PPK as a pretext for near-genocide. With the Iraqi Kurds flexing their political and social muscle, and providing a safe haven for Turkish Kurds, it was only a matter of time before Turkey's patience ran out and something like this "alleged" border-crossing occurred. That it has taken this long is the only surprising aspect of this entire story.

I suppose the only issue now is what happens next. Do we find out whether the Turks in fact crossed the Iraqi border? Does the US support an old ally in its continuing ethnic war against the Kurds, or its new ally in northern Iraq? What happens if the Turks actually cross the border in force? Do ethnic Kurds from Syria enter the fray as well, further destabilizing the region? Does the US try to remain above the fray, even though it created the situation in the first place?

The whole thing stinks, and there are no easy answers or good choices, unless one wants to write off Turkish friendship. Of course, the Turks are in the midst of multiple political crises right now, not the least of which is the whole issue of maintaining their secular state (the creation of which was fueled by rising Turkish ethnic solidarity, which first expressed itself in the slaughter of a million and a half ethnic Armenians) or becoming increasingly defined as a Muslim state.

Then, of course, there is the whole Kurdish question. The Kurds are the world's largest ethnic minority without a national homeland, scattered as they are across Turkey, Syria, and Iraq (and I believe parts of Iran and the southern Caucuses as well). With the British creating states out of whole cloth after the First World War, without regard to ethnic identity, and the maintenance of said states for wholly imperial reasons (please read "oil" here), we are now, nearly a hundred years on, in a situation in which the combination of national feeling, religious solidarity, and post-colonial resentment are mixed together like an evil brew that is about to explode. That the US has aided and abetted the entire situation provides little solace for our ability to get the simmering kettle to stop reeling.

All of these historical thoughts are just a pretext for asking certain questions that need to be answered more clearly. What are the US interests in re the Kurdish people, not just in Iraq, but across all the borders where they live? Will the US end its sale of weapons to the Turks that are used to kill Kurds? Will NATO and the EU end their relationships with Turkey, or end talk of allowing Turkish membership into the EU, as long as they continue their war on their Kurdish population? Or will the US continue to play both ends against a non-existent middle, supporting both northern Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, and pretend that the status quo is acceptable?

Virtual Tin Cup

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