Turkey will not launch war against Kurds

MOSCOW. (Georgy Mirsky for RIA Novosti) – Turkey invaded North Iraq, the domain of the Kurdistan Workers Party, several times. Five years ago, I was in the area where fighting is now taking place. At that time, small Turkish groups used to cross the border to deliver strikes on Kurdish positions.

What has changed since then?

Support TwoCircles

Kurdish separatists are now fighting in the Kurdish areas of Turkey bordering on Iraq. When the Turkish army retaliates, separatists escape into Iraq, where they hide in the mountains, regrouping and rearming for new forays into Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan is the natural hiding place for Kurdish separatists, and Turkey can do nothing about it.

However, they have killed Turkish soldiers this time, provoking a wave of public indignation in Turkey, and the authorities had to act more resolutely, in order to not look like weaklings to their own people.

The Turkish parliament has decided that the army must take measures to settle the situation and prevent new Kurdish attacks.

The government must now decide if it will sanction a large-scale military operation. So far, Turkey has only been delivering limited strikes, mostly from the air, which is ineffective in the mountains. The Kurds suffered some losses, but only minor ones. Turkey cannot launch a major military operation with the use of tanks at this time of the year – it would be ineffective.

In fact, such operations are designed for the domestic population. The government just wants to show the people that it is not sitting on its hands, which seems to be enough for them.

The political aspect of the problem is much more important. A potential Turkish invasion of North Iraq would have major political complications.

North Iraq, also called the Iraqi Kurdistan, is actually an independent state where young Kurds do not speak Arabic and where there are very few Arab officials and soldiers. However, it is formally part of Iraq and so a large-scale Turkish invasion would be seen as an attack against a sovereign state that is a member of the UN.

One of Turkey’s aspirations is to join the European Union, but there are numerous obstacles preventing this. The opponents of the idea, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, will use the situation as a pretext for denying access to the EU for such an aggressive state.

Relations with the United States are another crucial aspect. Turkey is a NATO member and Washington’s main ally in the region. But Iraqi Kurds are one of the few U.S. allies in Iraq, especially after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Even when the Americans leave Iraq, which is bound to happen sooner or later, Iraqi Kurdistan will remain an American bridgehead in the country. Therefore, Washington would not do anything that might incite the wrath of Iraqi Kurds.

This has placed the Untied States between a rock and a hard place, with two of its regional allies ready to start a war against each other. Turkey seems to be more important to the Untied States, but the Iraqi Kurds would appeal to Washington for help in the case of a war with Turkey.

Kurds are courageous and selfless warriors who had resisted Saddam Hussein for decades. They would rally to repel Turkey, but they will nevertheless need outside assistance. In this case, they will appeal not to the Iraqi government, which seems unable to deal with its own rebels, but to the United States.

It is impossible to imagine Washington sending its troops to fight its ally, Turkey, in Kurdistan. Therefore, the United States must prevent a serious conflict in the region, and Turkey will most likely listen to its recommendation.

Suppose a hundred thousand Turkish servicemen invaded and occupied North Iraq. What next? How long would Turkey be able to occupy part of a foreign state? It will be unable to eliminate all guerrillas in the mountains. Moreover, Iraqi Kurds might join the guerrillas in case of a large-scale Turkish operation.

True, they do not like Turkish Kurds, saying that they stage provocations that might eventually lead to a war with Turkey. Iraqi Kurds do not want this war, because they earn a lot from trade with Turkey. But the idea of a united Kurdish nation is still alive in their hearts.

A Greater Kurdistan incorporating the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria is a utopia. The immediate goal of the Iraqi Kurds is to keep the status quo. Their leaders have said more than once that they would not secede from Iraq but only need broad autonomy. They actually have it, and if they decide to set up their own state, they would be isolated internationally. No country would recognize such a Kurdish state, and economic ties with Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran would be severed, pushing Kurds into an economic abyss.

In short, a war against Turkey is the last thing Iraqi Kurds want. Turkey does not need a war either, but it cannot sit on its hand and so is delivering pinpoint strikes in the Iraqi Kurdistan. And this is all it will do in the next few months.

Georgy Mirsky, Ph.D., is a senior research fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.