On Iraq’s Northern Front, Echoes of Georgia?

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The following post is from occasional contributor Douglas Macgregor, an independent military strategist, retired Army colonel, and author of Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century.

Evidence is piling up that the Turkish government will commit its armed forces against the de facto Kurdish state in Northern Iraq sooner rather than later. During his trip to Ankara last week, Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was assaulted with questions from Turkish authorities about Kurdish activities in Kirkuk designed to drive out the remaining Arabs and establish Kurdish control over Iraq’s northern oil and gas resources.

What most Americans don’t know is that the Turkish government has tried to negotiate a settlement with the Kurds through its new Special Envoy for Iraq, Murat Ozcelik. People who know Ozcelik insist he is the best person to negotiate Turkey’s peace with the Kurds. Unfortunately, his Kurdish counterpart, Massoud Barzani, has turned out to be a fool who thinks he leads a pan-Kurdish movement inside Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

Convinced that Kurdistan’s oil and gas wealth empowers it to act as though it were a sovereign state, Barzani has reportedly missed his chance to secure real peace for the Kurds. Increasingly, he looks more and more like the Kurdish equivalent of Arafat—except that Barzani and the Kurds are likely to meet a far more bitter end. The Turks won’t exercise the restraint the Israelis have vis-à-vis the Palestinian Arabs.

Much of the violence that is picking up between the Kurds and the Sunnis may well be the first sign of a Turkish counter-offensive to punish the Kurds for their continued support of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group that seeks to establish a Kurdish state in the region. Barzani reportedly considers it his sacred duty to harbor the PKK, while Jalal Talibani, Iraq’s Kurdish president, views the PKK as some sort of strategic hedge against Turkish military intervention.

“The Kurds have overplayed their hand thanks to lots of American encouragement,” one of the most astute observers of the Turkish scene told me. “This isn’t so unlike Georgia. But the resulting violence will be far worse; Iraq will grow more unstable and the US will lose what little credibility it has left in the Middle East.”

We can only hope that United States withdraws our ground forces soon. Army and Marine ground forces already depend heavily on fixed bases for operational capability, and the prospect of facing a Turkish Army and Air Force full of young, energetic Turks only too happy to kill Americans is something this country should seek to avoid. Nothing good will come of it.

Click here for my December 2007 Mother Jones report on the danger of Turkish intervention in Iraq.

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