Thursday, December 20, 2007

Turks, Kurds and U.S. problems

So now there has been not just an airstrike but a "boots-on-the-ground" Turkish incursion into northern Iraq. As this Register editorial points out, it puts the U.S. in a ticklish position. Turkey is America's oldest ally in the Middle East, and northern Iraq, which has effectively become a small version of the Kurdistan Kurds have always wanted (why people want to have a state to enshrine their ethnic group is beyond me, and probably one of the more destructive desires in the world today, but there it is; we have a lot of educating to do) has until now been one of the most stable and pro-American areas in northern Iraq. But the pesky PKK marxist guerrilla group has been staging raids into Turkey and killing Turks, from camps in northern Iraq, and the Turks are striking back.

As Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute told me in a phone interview, there is much to understand on all sides, and much to deplore. The Turks have traditionally treated their Kurdish minority abysmally (there are Kurds in Iran as well), though things have calmed down a bit and some Kurds even serve in parliament. The recently calmed Kurdish separatist movement went on for more than 10 years, so one can understand a Turkish desire to nip the latest manifestation in the bud. The PKK is a violent group, designated terrorist by the U.S. and most European countries, and pretty ruthless. It's unclear just what relationship it has to the Kurdish regioonal government in northern Iraq -- the government officially condemns it but there's evidence it ignores it and perhaps even facilitates it. The Turks want the Kurdish government to get the PKK under control, but even if it wanted to it's unclear whether it could accomplish it.

One presumes most parties don't want the situation to spiral into wholesale violence, but it could happen easily, and the U.S., as the occupying force supposedly charged with keeping order, is caught in the middle. Things get so complicated when we invade other peoples' countries and try to run their lives without knowing much of anything about their ancient and modern feuds and resentments.

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