Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Turkish troops heading for Iraq?

On occasion, Turks appear to be a remarkably complacent people. Their top general publicly asks for permission to cross over into Iraq; their Prime Minister publicly warns that Turkey's patience is at the breaking point; their UN representative is to present a dossier probably justifying an incursion; and a military build-up continues on the Iraqi border. Some 80,000 Turkish troops have been amassed opposite the newly-empowered peshmerga, and all that happens in the Turkish press is some short discussion on an extra few tanks being sent to the border. Turkey may be about to send troops into the most volatile area in the world, and a deafening silence reigns in the Turkish press. There is no discussion at all about the objectives, methods and time frame of such an action.

Darcy does not claim to know all about Turkey, but he has lived here long enough to pick up the language (more importantly, be able to use a modified QWERTY keyboard), delve into its political and social past, and to get that all-important feel for the country. Yet he confesses himself to be quite at sea on this particular matter. In the absence of knowledge, speculation must arise. The following is such, and is open to correction.

Hypothesis 1: The Turkish media considers such an incursion into Iraq to be "a quarrel in a far-away country" in which their readers, listeners and viewers have little interest. Darcy considers this to be unlikely.

Hypothesis 2: The Turkish government and army have no intention to send troops into Iraq. (Therefore the media does not consider the current events to be important enough to note.) The present build-up is to put pressure on all factions in Iraq to address Turkey's demands. Darcy does not quite understand what this would accomplish. Iraq is hardly a country nowadays; instead it is a mass of violently conflicting interests. A uniform reply is therefore out of the question. Given that this hypothesis is unlikely to bear fruit, Darcy does not believe it to be valid.

Hypothesis 3: Turkey is truly preparing to invade Iraq. After all, the Turks seem to be on a diplomatic offensive that would render such an incursion more palatable to the world, and diplomatic powder is limited. Indeed these diplomatic forays appears to be bearing fruit in the form of implicit approval. The statement by the US Defence Secretary that "The Turks have a genuine concern with Kurdish terrorism that takes place on Turkish soil. So one can understand their frustration and unhappiness over this." and from the German Foreign Minister that "[T]he Turkish government naturally wants to protect its own people and that there is therefore a need to take action against terrorist activity." are certainly a world away from disapproval. Indeed, the recent move by the Americans to hand over the policing of Northern Iraq to the Kurds ahead of schedule may be a pre-emptive move to prevent Turkish and US soldiers from facing each other on the field. Of course the US and the EU will still kick up a fuss, but the international groundwork seems to have been laid. And considering that the US has some 160-170,000 troops to cover most of Iraq, 80,000 (at present) Turkish soldiers make a credible force for a relatively small slice of territory in the north. Darcy finds this to be quite credible.

Where, then, is the discussion of the pros and cons of such an operation? Has it happened in the past and Darcy has missed it? Or is there such consensus on this subject that a discussion is not needed? And why are Iran and Turkey shelling northern Iraq at the same time?

Hypothesis 4: Darcy is talking arrant nonsense.

Darcy is confident that a straight military encounter between the Turkish army and the peshmerga would be lopsided. Turkey is not a great military power - it does not have the ability to project power around the world - but it certainly possesses the ability to confront the peshmerga next door. (Some parallels have been drawn with the recent Israeli incursion into Lebanon; Darcy believes the dynamics of a broad front versus a narrow render such a comparison meaningless). Yet the peshmerga are said to number 80-175,000. He doubts that 80,000 Turkish troops (even with air superiority) would be enough brusquely to brush them aside. And that is assuming that the peshmerga would indeed be happy to fight the Turks, instead of disappearing into the mountains. And what of the potential security repercussions within Turkey?

Darcy considers these to be all valid questions. But where is the public debate?


Emre Kizilkaya said...

I have a 5th hypothesis: Turkish army is already a few kilometers into Iraq and there won't be a massive operation.

The current tension is being pressured up by Turkey, just to corner USA and Northern Iraqi authorities to act against PKK.

As I said, a significant amount of Turkish land forces are already there and the army has got the ability to hit any point in Norhern Iraq by airstrikes or artillery barrage.

Darcy alla turca said...

Quite possible. But again: why so little public discussion? There seems to be greater commentary on this in the international than the Turkish press.

Plateau said...

I was asked today to write a piece about Kurds, mainly from the Iranian perspective. Of course it will overlap with the situation in Iraq and Kurds in general. So, I'll do that tomorrow.

Btw, aren't you originally Turkish? Anyway, Turkish troops are already there based on the latest reports as I'm sure you know.

Darcy alla turca said...

Darcy thanks you for the compliment. No, he is proud to hail from the land of Shakespeare, lukewarm ale and Margaret Thatcher. He has however had business in and with Turkey for most of the past twenty-five years and has been living in Istanbul since 2000.