Reeling from an assault on a Turkish army post by PKK fighters, leaving 24 Turkish soldiers killed, Turkey dispatched 10,000 troops to its border area with Iraq, crossing into Iraqi territory in an attempt to hunt down the Kurdish PKK fighters who carried out the attack.
The Turkish military dispatched about 10,000 troops to the border with northern Iraq yesterday as part of its largest offensive against Kurdish militants for three years.
Turkish television reported last night that most of the troops, part of 22 battalions, had crossed into the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, after massing at five different border points. The offensive comes a day after militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) killed 24 Turkish soldiers and wounded 18 in simultaneous attacks near the border. The attacks were the worst single loss of life for the army since 1993.
It was Turkey’s largest such offensive since February 2008, when thousands of ground forces staged a weeklong offensive into Iraq on snow-covered mountains.
The military said the soldiers in the current operation are commandos, special forces and paramilitary special forces – making it an elite force trained in guerrilla warfare. They are being reinforced by F-16 and F-4 warplanes, Super Cobra helicopter gunships and surveillance drones.
“Our goal is to achieve results with this operation,” the Turkish Prime Minster, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told a nationally televised news conference. “The military is determinedly carrying out this [operation], both from the air and the ground.”
Wednesday’s activity cripples any immediate prospects for a political solution to Turkey’s three-decade conflict with the PKK and will instead likely reinforce Erdogan’s increasingly hawkish stand. The timing of the attacks appears to have been symbolic: they coincided with a long-anticipated meeting of lawmakers, including Kurdish MPs, to discuss a new constitution that could grant greater recognition to the country’s estimated 20 million Kurds. “This is a declaration of war,” wrote noted political commentator Mehmet Ali Birand. “There’s no other way to explain it.”
Besides adding to the turmoil within Turkey, the latest violence could have regional repercussions. The Arab Spring served as a reminder of how easily politics jumps national borders today, as they always have done for the Kurds — the world’s largest stateless people, left straddling Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey by Anglo-French mapmakers in the wake of World War I. Only in northern Iraq do Kurds enjoy autonomy, and it is in the mountains on the Iraqi side of the Turkish border that the PKK is largely based.
Erdogan lashed out at unnamed foreign supporters of the PKK, alluding, commentators say, to Syria and Iran. The latest assault, Erdogan said, showed that “terror is a tool in the hands of certain powers. The PKK are subcontractors used by other forces and other powers, trying to provoke Turkish society.” Relations with Syria have soured since Erdogan became vocally critical of his erstwhile friend Syrian President Bashar Assad. (During a previous period of Syrian-Turkish tensions, Damascus had allowed the PKK to operate out of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, which was under Syrian control.) And although Iran has denied media reports that it recently detained and released a senior PKK commander, ties between Ankara and Tehran have cooled since Erdogan approved a NATO missile-defense shield to be placed in central Turkey to counter any Iranian threat.
“To understand the escalation of violence between Turkey and the PKK, you have to look at the bigger picture of regional dynamics, ” says Radikal columnist Cengiz Candar. “The PKK is balancing on the Iran-Syria axis right now.”
Another factor in the escalation is the scheduled U.S. withdrawal from Iraq later this year. Turkey last week concluded an agreement with Iraqi Kurdish officials to begin emptying PKK settlements there. It has also stepped up cross-border military operations. “Ankara might be wanting to take advantage of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq to force the PKK out of its shelters in north Iraq, thereby squeezing it in a corner,” says Sedat Ergin, a columnist for the Hurriyetdaily. “The calculation would be to deal the group a serious blow and thus force it into a weaker position at the negotiating table.”
Without getting into the whys and wherefores of Turkey’s actions, if they are correct diplomatically, strategically or morally, and whether or not the PKK are legitimate freedom fighters, terrorists, or both, and whether they have a moral right to attack Turkish troops or not, I can’t help being staggered by Erdogan’s utter hypocrisy when he expresses such outrage against the PKK attack on Turkish troops, and yet would deny the same outrage and defensive actions to Israel under very similar circumstances and worse.
Additionally, what particularly struck me about this story is the utter lack of world reaction, compared to the hullabaloo whenever Israel takes the slightest defensive action against declared and recognized terrorists.
Where is the the Turkish Goldstone Report? Where are the UN declarations of support for the PKK? Where is the UN Special Rapporteur on the Inalienable Rights of the Kurdish People – a nation that once possessed its own country, Kurdistan, until the Sykes-Picot agreement tore up the Middle East and divided Kurdistan between Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.
Where are the massive demonstrations in capitals worldwide declaring “We are all PKK”? Or alternatively, “We are all Turkey”. Where are the BDS campaigns against Turkey?
Please keep this international hypocrisy in mind next time Israel’s complaints of bias and double standards are derisively dismissed.