Iraqi Kurds Question Aims of Turkish Incursion Into Iraq
ZAKHO, IRAQI KURDISTAN
STANDING at the southern end of the Habur Bridge that links Iraq with Turkey, Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas watch silently as a Turkish Army jeep roars past into their territory and disappears into the nearby town of Zakho.Skip to next paragraph
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"They told us they had a job to do, and they would leave when it was finished," says one of the peshmerga guerrillas, shrugging. "They said it would take four or five days, but it's been longer than that already."
The deep incursion of Turkish forces against separatist Turkish Kurds based inside Iraqi Kurdistan has stirred grave suspicions among the Kurds of Iraq, even though they, too, have been engaged in bitter fighting with the PKK, the radical Kurdish Workers' Party.
"People here think the Turkish intervention is very dangerous and that they might stay here," says Badr Khan, a medic at the Batufa hospital near Zakho. "We don't want the Turks to intervene between Kurd and Kurd. It damages our standing with the Turkish Kurds."
Such sentiments are echoed at the highest level of the Iraqi Kurdish leadership.
"We have reason to believe this may turn into a permanent Turkish presence on our side of the border," a Kurdish official says in Salahuddin. "We think they timed their intervention deliberately to coincide with the US elections, and we fear they have called the [Nov. 14] meeting with Iran and Syria to legitimize their move." (Last week, Turkey called a foreign ministers' meeting to discuss "developments in northern Iraq.")
But senior Turkish officials have indicated they intend to pull their troops back within about 10 days and say they have no desire to establish a "security zone" inside Iraq such as the Israelis have in south Lebanon.
Under the double onslaught from Iraqi Kurdish peshmergas and the Turkish Army and Air Force, the PKK abandoned large tracts of mountain terrain and fell back on two key bases.
The Turkish general staff last week said 1,800 PKK militants had been killed; about 2,500 of an estimated 7,000 separatists are still putting up scattered resistance.
In an unprecedented move, Turkish Prime Minister Suleyman De-mirel dispatched Foreign Ministry envoys to Iraqi Kurdistan last week to reassure the two main leaders, Ma-soud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), that the opera-tion would end once all the PKK bases had been eliminated.
That reassurance was clearly overdue. Turkish cross-border operations that began on Oct. 12 embarrassed Iraqi Kurdish leaders. Their guerrillas had been attacking PKK bases along the border for the previous week.
But much more alarming for the Iraqi Kurds was the penetration of Turkish armored units deep into Iraqi Kurdistan on Oct. 30, passing through towns like Zakho, a flanking move aimed at cutting off the PKK's retreat.
The Turkish move came just as Iraqi Kurds concluded a capitulation agreement with the PKK. Osman Ocalan, commander of PKK forces in the Iraqi border mountains, agreed on Oct. 30 to give up all PKK bases, halt cross-border attacks on Turkey, and withdraw, unarmed, either to deep within Iraqi Kurdistan, or across the borders to nearby Syria, Iran, or Turkey itself.
"We did the job, we were closing down the bases, and we'd guaranteed to keep the PKK away from the border," a senior Iraqi Kurdish official says. "What more do they want?"
Iraqi Kurdish leaders saw the Turkish move as a calculated blow to the integrity and credibility of the "federated state" they declared on Oct. 4. Kurds established their own regional government and parliament in the wake of general elections last May.
A Kurdish state is viewed with misgivings by Turkish officials, who worry that such a state might reinforce separatist tendencies within Turkey's own restive Kurdish population.
The Iraqi Kurdish peshmergas launched their drive against the PKK because PKK raids across the border into Turkey threatened the one vital lifeline to the outside world for the Kurds of Iraq.
"The security of Iraqi Kurdistan depends on Western protection, and its renewal needs Turkish approval every six months," says Sami Abdul Rahman, an Iraqi Kurdish Unity Party leader.
Iraqi Kurds depend on protection from Western jets based at Incerlik in Turkey. Twice-yearly approval from the Turkish parliament - due again in December - is by no means automatic.
Iraqi peshmergas went to war against the PKK only after they refused to vacate the border, Iraqi Kurds say.
"They left us no choice," says Mr. Barzani, head of the KDP, in an interview. "They did not accept our authority. They plotted to become the alternative power here, setting up sabotage and assassination networks, and receiving orders to kill our leaders.
"Their main target was us, not Turkey," he adds. "They were pushed and used by states which are against the democratic experiment in Iraqi Kurdistan. They were supported by Iran, Iraq, and Syria, which are all against the Kurdish independence which the PKK uses as its slogan. It is not what it seems."