Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a fine politician, knew even before he set foot in Washington on Monday that President George W. Bush could not possibly have anything tangible to offer him on the explosive Turkey vs. Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) dossier, apart from Pentagon aerial intelligence passed on to Turkish generals.
Erdogan, although describing himself as “happy” with his talks with Bush, may have left with nothing substantial. But at least he got a sound bite from Bush, who upgraded the PKK to the status of an enemy of America. Bush told Erdogan, “The PKK is a terrorist organization. They’re an enemy of Turkey, they’re an enemy of Iraq and they’re an enemy of the United States.”
Pity the US president could not possibly follow his own logic and add that the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK – the PKK’s Iran arm – is an enemy of Iran, an enemy of Iraq but a friend of the United States – which is arming and financing its fighters.
Last week, talking to his Justice and Development Party members of the Turkish Parliament, Erdogan stressed that he needed Bush to “clearly define [the US] road map” concerning the PKK. That would mean, from a Turkish point of view, direct US intervention against both the PKK and its protector, Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani. Bush promised nothing of the kind.
Erdogan has accused Barzani of protecting “terrorists.” Barzani has replied he would not hand over any of his Kurdish cousins accused of staging raids into Turkey from northern Iraq. If Bush did nothing about it, Erdogan said, “we will do our own job,” which is what Turkish generals are really itching for: a search-and-destroy-the-PKK invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan. In other words: a new Iraq war. Even after the “Mr. Erdogan goes to Washington” mini-movie, the chances of Turkey “doing its own job” remain high.
Blame it on Iran
Bush could not offer anything substantial because he would have had to admit his administration’s impotence at securing any of its neo-imperial possessions’ borders; this is what led the PKK to use Iraqi Kurdistan in the first place to coordinate its attacks in Turkey.
Iran also was not expecting that Bush would deliver anything to Erdogan. But then there are always the “unknown unknowns” in the bigger picture. Nobody knows whether Bush and Erdogan have discussed the fine print in a World War III (according to Bush) or World War IV (according to deranged neo-cons) scenario, which is being sold by the White House as caused by Tehran.
Way beyond Turkey’s troubles with the PKK, it all comes back to the stark fact that Turkey simply cannot accept a virtually independent Iraqi Kurdistan in its southeast border – exactly the outcome sought by the US-Israeli axis.
Bush and his inner circle have bought time to calculate the odds on whom to double-cross. Will it be North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally Turkey, with its handy Incirlik base, anti-US public opinion and no oil; or pro-US Iraqi Kurds, with lots of oil and their Israeli-trained peshmerga (armed forces)? Tough call. A poker player familiar with Bush administration methods would bet on a double double-cross, complete with a “blame it on Iran” sequel and a “bomb Iran” grand finale.
Ankara’s logic remain flawless, at least from a “war on terror” angle. If Washington invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq to fight “terrorists,” Ankara has the same rights to invade its terrorist-harboring neighbor, which just happens to be an American neo-colony. The irony is obviously lost on the Bush administration.
The Turkish leader’s visit to Washington was upstaged by a new coup perpetrated by that irrepressible US ally running a failed state, General President Musharraf of Pakistan. But at least the popularly elected Erdogan is now free to impose economic sanctions on Iraqi Kurdistan. Flights from Istanbul to Irbil have already been cancelled. Electricity and food will become scarce. Just the mere threat of sanctions led the PKK to look for a settlement. Last Friday a PKK leader, Abdul Rahman al-Chadirchi, had already started asking Turkey for a peace plan.
Pick your terrorist
At a meeting in Istanbul this past weekend of foreign ministers of all Iraq’s neighbors, plus the permanent members of the UN Security Council and selected G8 members, it emerged that a solution for the unholy mess was coming from Iran. Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had met with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Baghdad last Wednesday, and “urged Iran to help defuse the border crisis.” Tehran duly provided Baghdad with intelligence on the PKK, according to Iranian sources. But Baghdad did nothing – because the Bush administration blocked its every move.
Why? Simple. Tehran intelligence revealed that the PKK – anticipating a Turkish military attack – was now trading Iraqi Kurdistan for northwest Iran. That’s what Osman Ocalan, brother of jailed-for-life PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, and a founding member of the PKK, told The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn in Irbil.
As Asia Times Online has reported, the CIA has armed and financed the Iranian arm of the PKK, the PJAK, in its attacks against the Iranian government. Not only does Tehran share the same plight with Ankara, it would also expect Baghdad’s cooperation on the issue. No wonder the Bush administration – for which the PKK are “terrorists” and PJAK are not – had to squash the initiative.
But with 15 million Kurds in eastern Turkey, 5 million in Iraqi Kurdistan, 4 million in northwest Iran and 1 million in Syria, “the partition of Kurdistan works in our interests,” Ocalan said, referring to PKK’s extreme mobility. The Bush administration for its part is not exactly dispirited by the PKK’s ability to “destabilize” Iran or Syria.
Erdogan’s priorities, on the other hand, as revealed once again this Monday in an interview with Claudio Gallo from Italian daily La Stampa, are admission to the European Union, Turkey’s territorial integrity (“if only Baghdad had the will do dismantle the terrorist bases in the north”) and the Turkish public’s feelings about it. So between Bush and a hard place, he’d rather choose the latter, in the form of a strategic alliance with both Iran and Syria to combat what Ankara sees as dangerous Kurdish separatism. Turkey and Iran – commercially and now politically – are getting closer and closer.
Washington is more the loser because virtually no one in Turkey is shedding tears for what happens to their 57-year-old alliance. According to the June 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, no less than 83% of Turkey’s public opinion had an “unfavorable view” of the US, ahead of Egypt and Jordan (both at 78%) and Pakistan (68%). All of these governments – but not their populations – are US allies. It’s fair to assume these numbers are rising.
Russia for its part cannot but applaud the newfound Turkish-Persian entente. Nonstop Bush administration heavy handedness is actually fast erasing historical grievances and paving the way towards a new Eurasian configuration, with Turkey-Iran getting closer to Russia-China.
Dance, Pandora, dance
Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq opened a Pandora’s box that only now starts to be seen for its true incendiary potential. Turkey threatening to strike Iraq to protect its national security is a carbon copy of Bush invading Iraq in 2003. Moreover, “Iraq” is actually no more; it’s been smashed into three virtually independent statelets – exactly what Israel wanted in the first place.
Israel is so keen on an independent Iraqi Kurdistan because this is the way towards a new Kirkuk-Haifa oil pipeline (the old one was shut down in 1948) – which will pass though three American bases and cross US-friendly Jordan. A complicating factor is that at the same time Tel Aviv avidly coddles racist, Kurd-hating Turkish generals.
Turkey badly needs oil, as much as Israel. Turkey most of all cannot stand an independent Iraqi Kurdistan because it is focused on Mosul and Kirkuk’s oil wealth. For any Turk with an Ottoman Empire memory, Mosul’s oil fields, only 120 km from the border, should belong to Turkey; after all they were stolen by the British Empire as it drew the artificial borders of Iraq in the early 1920s.
Both the treaties of Sevres (1920) and Lausanne (1923) did everything to exclude Mosul and Kirkuk – both with a Turkman majority – from Turkey, so the new republic would be deprived of oil. It’s not hard to imagine Turkish generals dreaming of a modern Turkey swimming in oil wealth as a certified regional superpower, spreading its wings over the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and as far as Central Asia. The equation is inescapable: if Washington could invade Iraq to grab its oil, why not neighbor Turkey, who owned the oil in the first place?
Bye bye Washington
The astute Erdogan knew even before setting foot in Washington that the solution to the Turkey-PKK crisis lay in a frank Washington-Tehran dialogue.
But for that to happen, he knew Bush and the neo-cons would have to drop their faithful ally the KRG and their useful destabilizing force, the PKK/PJAK. And they would also have to abandon the pretence that Iraq is “stabilized” while at the same time threatening to attack Iran, which is a regional power not interested in any destabilization.
Unlike scurrilous President General Musharraf in failed state Pakistan, Erdogan is an elected leader whose public opinion will seriously fault him for not caring about the national interest. So for the moment he is “happy” with Bush’s sound bite. He’ll wait – for just a little while. If nothing moves, Turkey will strike. Hard. And Washington won’t even get a phone call.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007).