Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Talking Turkey

The Iraqi government says it's going to do its best to rein in the Kurdish rebels, operating out of the far north of Iraq, who have been attacking Turkish soldiers. The most recent ambush over the weekend was the worst of its kind in a decade - it left 12 Turkish troops dead, and a further eight missing. The Kurdish fighters are separatists, who want to set up a Kurdish homeland in southern Turkey.

They've actually been fighting like this since 1984, but now they've decided to make a renewed effort to get what they want. The instability prompted by the Iraq war was always going to raise Kurdish hopes of some kind of independent country in the areas around northern Iraq and southern Turkey (which is why Turkey was so reluctant to get involved in the invasion, despite being a US ally and member of NATO). And there's no reason to believe the Iraqi government will be able to do much to prevent the campaign continuing. Despite the US surge, and yesterday's surprise announcement that violence in Iraq is down 70 percent since June, the Iraqi administration is still pretty weak and has its hands full simply remaining in power.

So what happens next? Probably some more attacks against Turkish soldiers, and possibly some in Turkish cities, which would certainly help Turkey's allies in Washington cast the conflict as part of its war on terror. If the campaign continues though, it'll be difficult for the US to prevent the Turks carrying out military attacks on Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq. Four years after it decided at the last moment not to join in the invasion of Iraq, the chaos caused by that ill-fated conflict may yet force Turkey to end up doing its own version.

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