Thursday, August 03, 2006

Turkey Launches Limited Incursion into Iraq by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

On July 19, Turkey was making noise about launching a unilateral cross-border incursion into Iraq to engage the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in combat operations. The situation had become so serious that Turkey warned both the U.S. and Iraqi ambassadors that its patience with continued PKK presence in Iraq was wearing thin. On July 25, Turkey and the U.S. entered an agreement designed to prevent such unilateral intervention by increasing the two countries' cooperation against the PKK. Late last week, Turkey launched its first reported incursion into Iraq. Zaman Online reported on July 28:

"The 1st division commander of Iraq's Kurdistan Democrat Party (IKDP), Fahmi Sofi, claimed that about 200 Turkish soldiers entered two kilometers into Northern Iraq on Wednesday. His statement came from the Voice of Iraqi Radio. While debates about a cross-border operation continue in Turkey, Iraqi Radio announced that the Turkish military advanced into the Dohuk region, passing the Iraqi border. Deputy Commander Sofi stated that about 200 Turkish soldiers passed the border around 3:00 pm in a statement he made to the station broadcast from Baghdad. . . . Another related news story on a website called 'Peyamner', known to be the broadcasting body of IKDP, also reported that a division of the Turkish military entered the Kveste village region in Ahmediye bound to the Duhok city in order to conduct an operation against the terror organization PKK."

There has been no indication in press accounts about whether this cross-border incursion occurred pursuant to the joint U.S.-Turkish agreement on cooperation against the PKK. However, since no diplomatic wrangling emerged after the incursion, it's best to assume that it took place pursuant to the agreement.

We're likely to see further Turkish military engagement of the PKK. One reason is that the PKK seems to have escalated its attacks against Turkish civilians and government entities. On Sunday, for example, a PKK-laid landmine killed one child and injured three others in the eastern province of Bingöl, while a PKK attack on police lodgings in the province of Ağrı injured six officers and a passer-by. Such attacks will continue to drive public pressure for the Turkish government to counter the PKK presence in Iraq.

A second factor that will likely drive Turkey to further engagement with the PKK is the appointment of Gen. Yasar Buyukanit to head the Turkish military. Gen. Buyukanit is known as a "blunt-speaking hawk," and most observers believe that he will call for more aggressive action against the PKK.

Expect to see further Turkish incursions into Iraq -- coordinated with the United States if not carried out in conjunction with U.S. troops -- over the coming weeks and months.

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