Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s statement clearly announced to the world that the coordinator mechanism between Turkey, the US and Iraq against the PKK terrorist organization in Northern Iraq did not help out. He did not only criticize this but also he asked the US: “Is this a kind of delay tactic?” Mr. Erdogan says that the PKK terrorists captured by the Turkish security forces have weapons of US origin and also states that “There is no positive progress in fighting against terror. From now on we wait for a concrete result; we cannot just sit and wait anymore”.
It is obvious that from now on the Turkish PM has no more tolerance; he is in his limits. There are about 5.000 armed PKK militants in Northern Iraq and they can freely attack to Turkish targets from Iraqi territories. Obviously, the US, Iraqi Government and the Kurdish local authorities are the responsible bodies for this result.
However, the Americans stay at the same point. A few hours later after the Turkish P.M.’s harsh statements on his way to Lebanon, the spokeswoman and second ambassador of the U.S. embassy in Ankara; Kathy Schalow said that “We take so serious the fight against PKK and continue to assist Turkey in its fight against PKK.”
‘No step has been taken until now’
After the Iraq War, the Americans have promised so much, but has done almost nothing. While not hesitating to put ‘Guantanamo style sacks’ over the heads of Turkish soldiers, the Americans complained about the difficulties of the fight against the PKK militants. They said that “mountains are too high”, “air is so cold”, and “primarily you should first tackle the terrorists in your territory”. However, they have not taken any precautions in Iraq that would disturb the PKK. They have not, since they do not want any development that would disturb or weaken the Kurds in Iraq. The Americans in Iraq that they will not find any other group to rely on in and around Iraq, if they lose the Kurds too; the only group that is left in their hands.
Surely, all behind this scene there is the factor of Israel too. It carries out, in co-operation with the American neo-con, a Kurdish centric approach in and around Iraq: Iran and Syria has not been weakened but relieved with the occupation of Iraq. Both of them think that it is so hard for the US to attack them while being stuck in Iraq. In Palestine and Lebanon they are trying to make things harder for the US and Israel. However, the Kurds could change all the balances in this whole game. Not only Iraq, but also Syria, Iran and Turkey have Kurdish minorities. The Kurds are located very near to the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Thus strengthened Kurds in Iraq will inevitably undermine the stability in the neighboring countries. It means that the Iraqi Kurds and armed PKK provides a perfect too to destabilize Iran, Syria and possibly Turkey too.
If the things totally go wrong in Iraq for the US and Israel, the only way to keep away Iran from Iraq passes through the Kurds, especially through the PKK’s Iran wing, the PJAK. The PJAK militants have killed more than 100 Iranian security officers last year. The PKK offers an ‘open cheque’ to Americans and says that “use me wherever you wish.” The PKK is ready to be used in Iran, Syria, Turkey or any other country on request, as long as the US tolerates its power and activities, which means that the PKK wants to be a subcontractor force to maintain its existence. It says that “As long as I stay alive it does not matter how it happens”. As a matter of fact, Barzani and Talabani followed a similar way to reach their power by co-operating with the occupying forces against the national government of Iraq. By using the same methods, PKK wants to stay alive and then be the third Kurdish Power in the region.
Everybody knows that the PKK is one of the most bloody terrorist organizations; even bloodier than the ETA, IRA or Al-Qaeda. It is responsible of the deaths of 40.000 of people in Turkey. Among these there are babies that were only a few months old. It has no boundaries and has a nature that can kill lots of civil women, old people and children. The PKK killed hundreds of teachers, engineers and any other people that work in the region without hesitating. As a result of its very nature it can set bombs in buses, trains or blast school services without caring who is in them. That’s why not only Turkish laws but also the US and the EU laws list the PKK as terrorist organization.
Right now this terrorist organization is in Iraq, set up camps and makes armed trainings. Until the end of the summer of 2006, it was densely making armed attacks to Turkey. Iraqi territories are so comfortable for PKK: it has offices in the cities, so-called schools, legal and illegal businesses, armed camps etc. You can see the PKK flags in many towns in Northern Iraq even in Baghdad. They educate the children with an ideology that would make them terrorists. Together with the Marxist Leninist ideology in these courses there is an extremist Kurdist understanding too. After a certain level, the training with guns begins; blasting bombs with a cell phone is a natural part of the so-called education. The PKK, which had entered the phase of dissolution after the capture of its leader Abdullah Öcalan, returned to life due to the war in Iraq. It blossomed and become stronger in Iraq, which is under the control of the US. According to some resources it has 5000 armed militants. Even this number is 3-4.000, it is still too high and this is the biggest cost for Turkey that Iraq War caused.
The Coordinator mechanism
The surveys that were made by the I.S.R.O. (USAK) show that the primary reason that causes anti-Americanism in Turkey is the PKK problem. As long as the US does not take initiative and the PKK continues its attacks through Iraq, always there will be a permanent wound in the relations between Turkey and the U.S. Moreover, the moderate stance of the U.S. against PKK puts Turkish government into a difficult position in front of the public. After every funeral of the Turkish martyred soldiers that were sacrificed in fighting against the PKK terrorism, the faces turn to the government and the ordinary people expect the government to stop the attacks from Iraq. Thus, the PKK not only negatively affects the relations between Turkey-Iraq and the US, but also it extremely limits the maneuvering capability of the Turkish government.
Under these circumstances, it took so long for the Americans – not until the summer of 2006- to understand the importance of the subject. First of all, they realized the close link between anti-Americanism in Turkey and the PKK issue. Secondly, the increase in the attacks of the PKK and the soldier funerals made it necessary for Turkey to send troops to Northern Iraq, and Ankara Government informed the US and Iraq for a possible military operation against the terrorist camps in Northern Iraq. Primarily, the US stated that it cannot make an operation against PKK camps alone, it goes beyond of its limits of power, and then Turkey requested from the US to help in the arms that would be needed. While not hesitating to give any kind of weapons to Israel during its attacks in Lebanon, the US gave none of the requested weapons to Turkey when it comes to the PKK issue. Thereupon, Turkey said that “Since you do not make an operation, nor help us, then we alone and without any help will make an operation against the PKK camps.” Contrary to expected, the Turkish government was more enthusiastic than the army about this. Especially, the PM Erdogan ordered directly to the army to be ready for a cross border operation in the summer of 2006. It was a matter of time for an operation. It was this moment that the Americans stepped forward suddenly. They understood that it is hard to stop the Turks and began to think that this kind of an operation would complicate the Kurdish policy in Iraq further. It cannot be perceived where such an operation would stop and the worst of all would be a battle between the Turks and the forces of Talabani and Barzani; because, there were lots of the PKK militants among the Barzani forces. It is known that Barzani and Talabani supply weapons and other facilities to the PKK terrorists and many of the PKK militants live in and around the settlements that are under the control of them.
Under these circumstances the US, -a little bit anxiously- has taken 3 significant steps to stop Turkey;
1. First of all, it came up with the coordinator system, which was not functioning before. While appointing an important retired-general in its part; Joseph Ralston, the vacancy in Iraq was filled too.
2. Not only the American appointed a coordinator, but also they gave important promises. Previously, lots of high level authorities and also President Bush promised that PKK would be swept away from Iraq. However, none of these were realized. Now, the US has began to make promises like “We will take such a big and concrete steps in a short time that even Turkey will be surprised.” Even the Turkish side were insisting as “it is time for concrete precautions, not for promises”, the concrete promises of the Americans helped to decrease the tension in Turkey a little bit.
3. The third step was the PKK’s self-declared ‘ceasefire’ with the mediation of Talabani. In this period Americans also made direct negotiations with the PKK militants and gave the message of “Unless you stop the attacks against Turkey immediately, this will be the end of you.” As a result, the PKK has stopped its activities seriously ate least till now.
In fact, these three precautions were to keep away Turkey from Iraq, not to sweep out the PKK from there. However, as being the most naïve country in the region, Turkey could not realize that sufficiently. Asking Americans as, “Is this a kind of delay tactic?” months later on the high level is an evidence of this naivety.
It should be reminded that Turkey has a share in the malfunctioning of the coordinator mechanism too, even the Americans intended to delay.
First of all, Turkey did not see any important role that fell upon it. It has pursued a “wait and see” policy in a mood such that “Let’s see what will Americans make.” It was presumed that the only role that Turkey had to play was waiting. Because of that the government appointed a person which was so obvious that it could not work with him in harmony; retired-general Edip Baser.
Mr. Baser is a classical hawk about the PKK problem and he only promotes the military methods in the fight against terror. From the very first day he is in the mood such as “I can resign anytime.” The people around him always decried the coordinator mechanism to him. While being accused of being in favor of the US, at the same time he was indicted to be in favor AKP too. Against these accusations he took the position of defense and tried to prove that these accusations did not reflect the truth. As the time passed he also began to recognize the other dimensions of fight against terror and emphasized that military operations are not sufficient enough alone themselves, however this period was that he began to exaggerate his duty as a coordinator. He caused disturbance inside of the government with his behaviors such as not being satisfied with his seat in the meetings, trying o set up a team which was formed of around 20 officers and retired officers. However, as a coordinator he was supposed to carry out the duties of the coordinator in Turkey, as in the first place. He should have analyzed well enough the civilians, army and the public opinion and tried to be a mediator that arranges harmonization between these groups. Maybe for the first time, a new institution had appeared that would contribute to the harmonization between the government and security forces. In fact, this was a historical chance. Also, it was essential that he should avoid from the provocative talks. Unfortunately, he did not. The most important of all, the representative of Turkey was not active enough on abroad. He should have made pressures on the international public opinion and the US. He should have asked to the Americans almost everyday “What have you done today against the PKK in Iraq”.
The US has used the coordinator mechanism as a tool of delay. However, Turkey could have used this mechanism as a tool against the U.S.’ indifference PKK policy and the PKK. Intentions of the Americans should have been analyzed and other precautions should have been taken, but it should not have been too easy to waste a brand new institution that could have been so efficient.
Timing: Why Now?
Why did the Turkish Prime Minister speak now? Why did he accuse the US and say that the coordinator mechanism did not help out? Moreover, while the tension is so high between Turkey and the EU, why did he prefer to disrupt the relations between the US and Turkey?
The first reason for that is not to give enough time to the US to come up with an excuse. Now, he is more precautious after his experiences of the summer of 2006. Mr. Erdogan creates the necessary diplomatic and political atmosphere during the winter, since it is really hard to make a military operation in this season. The dark side will not stand still in a year of the general and presidential elections. If the PKK begins its activities once more or ‘some powers’ try to use the PKK for their certain purposes, it is necessary to be prepared for these kind of situations. In other words, when it becomes necessary to enter Northern Iraq, there should not be an obstacle like the US in front of Turkey. The reason that the Turkish government put forward the PKK problem in the first days of the new year is that it paves the way for a possible military operation in the spring or summer season of 2007.
Secondly, it is obvious that the Turkish PM has some NIO (National Intelligence Organization) and other institutions’ reports. These reports say that the PKK use the American weapons and can move freely in Iraq under the American control. Surely, this information makes the PM more aggressive.
Translated by Hasan Selim OZERTEM, JTW
9 January 2007