Border Turmoil Tripwires

Article excerpt


As Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Washington today, he will ask President Bush for approval to launch military action against Kurdish rebels based in Northern Iraq.

He will use all the arguments that Washington likes to hear. Turkey is an ally in the war on terror, the PKK is a terrorist group, therefore Washington should agree to Ankara's request to smash them. Simple, no?

In fact, the situation in northern Iraq is far from simple. For starters, a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq will destabilize a peaceful, prosperous, and pro-American region of Iraq.

Already Iraqi Kurds are fleeing the border zones. If the 60,000 Turkish troops now amassed at the border cross into Iraq, they will provoke a massive new refugee crisis and destroy the boom economy that has made the Kurdish region "the other Iraq," an Iraq of entrepreneurs, safety and civility.

Even worse: A Turkish invasion of northern Iraq will directly benefit another key regional player, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Little known in Washington is the strategic and military alliance forged recently between U.S. NATO ally Turkey and U.S. arch-enemy Iran.

Since August, Iran and Turkey have jointly battled Kurdish rebel groups based in Northern Iraq. When the cross-border shelling of Iraqi villages began Aug. 16, Turkish gunners opened fire against PKK bases along Iraq's border with Turkey, while Iranian gunners simultaneously took aim at guerrillas of the Party of Free Life of Iranian Kurdistan, commonly known as PJAK.

I recently returned from a reporting trip to Northern Iraq, where I spent several days at PJAK rebel bases deep in the Qandil Mountains along the Iraqi border with Iran.

The first thing that became immediately clear was the geography. The PKK and PJAK occupy completely different areas of northern Iraq, separated from each other by 11,000-foot mountain peaks and breathtaking canyons.

The PKK faces north, toward Turkey, and directs its activities against Turkey. PJAK faces east, toward Iran, and since 2004 has been conducting political and guerrilla operations inside Iranian Kurdish areas. In the two months since the recent fighting began, PJAK guerrillas told me they have killed 200 Iranian Revolutionary Guards troops in 21 separate clashes, most of them provoked by the Iranian side. …