Friday, 19 October 2007

NATO Allies at Loggerheads

Armenian genocide bill and Ankara's plans for cross border raids into Iraq puts strain on relationship

The Turkish parliament on Wednesday endorsed a government request to send the country's armed forces into Northern Iraq to hunt down and destroy Kurdish PKK rebels who are said to be taking shelter there.

The vote brought a swift response from Baghdad who warned Ankara to respect Iraqi sovereignty. Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said, "Unilateral action will mean irreparable damage to bilateral relations and will have bad consequences for Iraq, bad consequences for Turkey, and bad consequences for the region."

First published by Ohmynews International on Thursday 18th October.

U.S. President George Bush also issued a stern warning to Ankara.

"We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq."

Bush, whose approval rating is currently at just 24 percent, the lowest for any president in modern American history, did not immediately make it clear what consequences Turkey may face in the event it did launch an incursion. And given the circumstances, his options may be severely limited.

The U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan depend heavily on logistical support flown in from the Incirilik air base in Turkey -- all on the grace and favor of the Turkish government. The loss of these facilities would be a major blow to U.S. operations in the region -- especially if Ankara withdrew its permissions with little or no notice.

Ankara is possibly angry enough to do just that, and they are probably acutely aware of the fact that at this point in time, Washington needs them more than they need Washington. Are the Turks planning to hijack Washington’s vulnerability to inveigle some sort of deal from the U.S. in return for tempering their outrage over the Armenian issue, and allowing the Iraqi security forces another chance to deal with the PKK rebels lurking in their territory?

The passage last week of a resolution by a U.S. Congressional panel describing the World War I killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as genocide has outraged Ankara.

The resolution is set to go to the House next week. Bush is urging congress not to pass the Armenian genocide resolution in an effort to limit further damage to relations with NATO partner Turkey.

Perhaps realizing just how serious the situation could become, many House Democrats have dropped their support for the genocide resolution. Democrat John Murtha bluntly assessed the situation, saying the United States was in no position to be thinking of moral values at such a crucial time.

Analysts say despite receiving the green light for military action from parliament, there have been no indications that Turkey plans to immediately use the some 60,000 troops it has massed on its borders. Turkish officials have repeatedly said that military action would be a last resort, but say years of diplomacy have yielded no results and patience is wearing thin.

But to be perfectly frank, Ankara has never had much patience with the PKK and before the Second Gulf War in 2003, Turkey launched frequent cross border raids. Thousands died in these incursions.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the international community, but while their activities against the Ankara government have always been considered acts of terror, their Iraqi Kurd counterparts were hailed as freedom fighters against Saddam Hussein.

In the years between the first and second Gulf Wars, the northern Kurdish region of Iraq came under the protection of a NATO no-fly zone. Allied aircraft patrolled the area keeping it clear of Saddam's warplanes that had previously launched devastating attacks on the local Kurd population.

Interestingly, this same protective umbrella did nothing to curb the frequent incursions of the Turkish military to attack PKK rebels in Iraqi territory.

Turkey of course, is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and consequently an ally of the United States.

But what will happen when Turkish armor rolls across the border into a sovereign Iraq?

Iraq has made it very clear, it will tolerate no Turkish incursion. But is the Iraqi army strong enough to stand up to the mighty Turkish military? Unlikely.

So would Baghdad insist on the occupying coalition forces to act with them, or on their behalf, to ensure the integrity of Iraqi sovereignty?

A failure on the part of Washington to heed a call for help from the Baghdad government would destroy what little credibility the coalition has left.

On the front lines is the Korean detachment of about 600 troops at Camp Zaytun near Irbil. They are there primarily to help in reconstruction, but Seoul must now be questioning the safety of its soldiers in the event full scale military operations begin in the area -- and weighing the consequences of maintaining the commitments of its close alliance with the United States.

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