A New Threat In Iraq
While the Bush administration struggles to stabilize Baghdad, a major new threat is emerging in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. If it isn't defused, this crisis could further erode U.S. goals in Iraq -- drawing foreign military intervention, splintering the country further and undermining U.S. hopes for long-term military bases in Kurdistan.Now of course this is a threat but it's certainly not a new one and Ignatius himself points out that it's a centuries old conflict. Anyone who knew anything about the history and culture of the region knew the Kurdish situation was a threat. Unfortunately none of the neocons or anyone in the Bush administration knew anything about the region they were going to "transform". The problem goes deeper than Turkey and in fact threatens a civil war within a civil war in Iraq.
The core issue is Kurdish nationalism, which worries Iraq's powerful northern neighbor, Turkey, which has a substantial Kurdish minority. The Bush administration has tried to finesse the problem, hoping to keep two friends happy: The Kurds have been America's most reliable partner in Iraq, while the Turks are a crucial ally in the region. But in recent weeks, this strategy has been breaking down.
As with so many aspects of Iraq, the Bush administration has wandered into a conflict that is encrusted with centuries of ethnic hatred. Iraqi Kurds push their politicians toward defiant assertions of independence; Turks are demanding that their leaders move to crush the Kurdish upstarts. Meanwhile, the American public is increasingly fed up with the fractious mess of Iraq and wants U.S. troops home yesterday.
The administration, realizing that it was drifting toward a confrontation over the Kurdish issue, last year appointed retired Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston as a special emissary. His mission is to urge the Iraqis to crack down on the militant Kurdish political party known as the PKK, which uses Iraqi Kurdistan as a staging point. The Turks denounce the PKK as a terrorist group and threaten that if the United States doesn't take decisive action to suppress it, the Turkish army will.
A flash point is Kirkuk, an oil-rich city claimed by the Kurds, which the Turks regard as a special protectorate because of its large Turkmen population. The new Iraqi constitution calls for a referendum by December on the city's future, and the Kurds are confident they will win the vote. The Turks, fearing the same outcome, want the referendum delayed. The Bush administration seems to favor a delay but hasn't said so publicly, to avoid angering the Kurds and undermining the constitution.This is just another example of the incredible incompetence of the Bush/Cheney cabal and the neocons. This "new threat" was easily predicted and in fact was.
Turks and Kurds have fired heavy rhetorical barrages the past few weeks. Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani warned that if the Turks meddled in Kirkuk, "then we will take action for the 30 million Kurds in Turkey." The head of the Turkish general staff, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, responded that "from an exclusively military point of view," he favored an invasion of Iraq to clean out PKK havens. If the Turks do attack, counters one Kurdish official, "their own border will not be respected. They will not be the only ones to choose the battlefield."
A wild card in the Kurdish problem is Iran. Like the Turks, the Iranians have a restless Kurdish minority and would be tempted to intervene militarily against a militant group called PJAK that operates from Iraqi Kurdistan. Indeed, top Iranian military officers met in Ankara recently for discussions with the Turkish general staff about possible military contingencies in Iraq, according to one U.S. official.