Turkish raid strains U.S.-Kurd ties
American support in strike against PKK rebels threatens relations with key Iraqi allies.
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Hundreds of Peshmerga fighters, backed by local residents, rushed to the area to prevent Turkish forces, who were already two miles outside the base (a remnant from the last major Turkish incursion into northern Iraq in the mid-1990s), from going any farther.Skip to next paragraph
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"The Peshmergas told them if you go any further we will kill you," Mohsen says.
"He told me I will be the first to die in fighting the Turks," according to Mohsen.
The region's prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, says the Turks have been emboldened by the support and intelligence they received from the US military in December to carry out a sweeping air assault against the PKK that Ankara said killed 175 rebels and hit more than 200 targets. The decades-old confrontation between the Turkish Army and the PKK has been escalating since the fall.
"They know the United States has been very soft with them [Turks], so they want to take advantage," says Mr. Barzani, a nephew of the president. "They gave them intelligence and allowed them to bombard our territory, so they ask for more now. This was a big mistake by the US to allow them to use the airspace."
Barzani says he's convinced the PKK is only a pretext for what he says is a Turkish war against the KRG. "Turkey publicly says their target is the PKK, but based on the movement that we see, we do not believe that's their only target. The target is the KRG.... We will resist. If they cross that border to come to us, we will fight."
Thousands of Peshmerga forces have been dispatched to the border area as a precaution against any further Turkish advance. Mohsen points to a red line along the Mateen mountain range in the area that he says if Turks crossed would trigger direct war with his forces.
Metehan Demir, a veteran defense correspondent now with the Hurriyet newspaper in Ankara, says the Turkish operation was carried out now, in the winter season, to catch the PKK off guard. "Everybody was expecting this operation to be carried out in the spring – as well as the PKK.... Such a move by the Turkish Army destroys the PKK's [spring defensive] plans because it was carried out in this season."
He says that while there has been much criticism for the operation among Kurdish officials in Iraq, it will not have much impact on the military decisionmaking in Ankara, Turkey's capital. He says senior Turkish politicians and generals have laid the groundwork with the US and Iraqi governments, and even Iraqi Kurds, to minimize criticism.
"Don't look at what [Iraqi Kurdish leader] Barzani and other Kurdish authorities say; this is just a good boy, bad boy game and it's not so surprising for Ankara," says Mr. Demir. "This time the political climate has been arranged…. It's not so bad for Turkey."
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates – who will visit Ankara this week – said Sunday that Turkey's campaign would not solve its problems with the rebels.
"After a certain point, people become inured to military attacks and if you don't blend them with these kinds of nonmilitary initiatives, then at a certain point the military efforts become less and less effective."