The George W. Bush administration would not flinch to betray its allies in Iraqi Kurdistan if that entailed a US “win” in the Iraq quagmire. And it would not flinch to leave its Turkish North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies in the wilderness as well – if that entailed further destabilization of Iran. Way beyond the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) vs Turkey skirmish, one of these two double-crossing scenarios will inevitably take place. Washington simply cannot have its kebab and eat it too.
The Bush administration’s double standards are as glaring as meteor impacts. When, in the summer of 2006, Israel used the capture of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah to unleash a pre-programmed devastating war on Lebanon, destroying great swathes of the country, the Bush administration immediately gave the Israelis the green light. When 12 Turkish soldiers are killed and eight captured by PKK guerrillas based in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Bush administration urges Ankara to take it easy.
The “war on terror” is definitely not an equal-opportunity business. That has prompted Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek to mischievously remark, regarding Turkey, “It’s as if an intruder has gatecrashed the closed circle of ‘we,’ the domain of those who hold the de facto monopoly on military humanitarianism.”
The US and Israeli establishment regards Hezbollah as a group of evil super-terrorists. But the PKK consists of just “minor” terrorists, and very useful ones at that, since the US Central Intelligence Agency is covertly financing and arming the PJAK (Party for Free Life in Kurdistan), the Iranian arm of the PKK, whose mission is to “liberate” parts of northwest Iran.
Not accidentally, the new PKK overdrive coincides with US – and also Israeli – covert support for the PJAK. Israel has not only invested a lot in scores of business ventures in Iraqi Kurdistan, it has also extensively trained Kurdish peshmerga special commandos, who could easily share their knowledge with their PKK cousins.
The new PKK offensive coincides with a PKK flush with new mortars, anti-tank weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and even anti-aircraft missiles. And most of all, the PKK drive coincides with the mysteriously vanished scores of light weapons the Pentagon sent to Iraq with no serial numbers to identify 97% of them.
The person responsible for this still unsolved mystery is none other than the counterinsurgency messiah and top commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus. The suspicion that the Pentagon never wanted these weapons to be traced in the first place cannot be easily dismissed. Either that or the PKK has been very active lately in the black market for light weapons.
The Turkish-Israeli plan
US corporate media totally ignore the US/Israeli coddling of the PJAK – and by extension the PKK. The larger context is lost. No one bothers to ask how come the Bush administration seems to be such a huge fan of a greater Kurdistan.
As much as the PJAK – and the PKK – use American largesse for greater Kurdistan ends, the Bush administration uses especially the PJAK for its wider “war on terror” target: the destabilization of Iran. Turkish-US relations in this case are no more than a casualty of war. Now the Turks are up not only against Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), but also the US and the European Union in Brussels. And in addition, the PKK denies it has attacked Turkey out of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Turkey has angrily reacted to the US Senate proposal for “soft” partition of Iraq. This is the famous US “Plan B” for Iraq – more an “A” than a “B” because it was floated years ago. And the authors are Israel and … the Turks themselves.
The plan has been extensively documented, among others, by the Center for Research at the Kurdish Library in New York. According to its “Kurdish Life” newsletter, “Back in 1990, Turkey’s then prime minister Turgut Ozal made a deal with the US and Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. Masterminded by an Israel obsessed with breaking up the ‘sea of Arabs’ in the Middle East, the plan has proceeded apace ever since, influencing and directing virtually all of Washington’s political and military tactics in Iraq. And yet even today it remains nobody’s business.”
The Israeli mastermind was Leslie Gelb, a relatively moderate Zionist. The plan duly featured in the Turkish press at the time. It proposed a federal Iraq, with a Kurdistan, a section of Kirkuk and Mosul for the Turkomans; and the rest, in fact most of the country, for “the Arabs,” Sunni and Shi’ite alike.
To get their autonomous mini-state, the Iraqi Kurds just had to guarantee to smash the PKK. As for Turkish Kurds, the Turkish prime minister’s spokesman said at the time that since “two-thirds of Turkey’s Kurds are scattered through the country” and the rest “fully integrated into Turkish society,” they would have no business dreaming about autonomy.
Barzani and Jalal Talabani, Iraqi Kurdish leaders, rival warlords and wily opportunists, duly fulfilled their part of the deal – especially in October 1992 during a joint offensive with the Turkish army against the PKK. They may have sold out the PKK 15 years ago, but that won’t happen again; at least that’s what the two have vocally promised. For their part, the PJAK-PKK have been tremendously helpful for the Bush administration agenda of “destabilizing” Iran.
The Kurdish Life newsletter argues that the cause of Turkey’s current woes is not the US or the Iraqi Kurds. It’s a self-inflicted wound, all spelled out in Ozal’s plan. “With his untimely death in 1993, the plan was revised, with an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan to include Kirkuk, and more, and the remainder of Iraq to be divided between Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs. The Republicans of the Bush administration cemented it into the Iraqi constitution under the rubric ‘federation’.”
That’s no less than the “soft” partition the US Senate recently voted for. That’s the future Washington wants for Iraqi Kurdistan. And that’s the scheme the US – and Israel – don’t want their ally Turkey to spoil by attacking the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan. No wonder the Turkish leadership – not to mention Turkish public opinion – is fuming.
Chronicle of an invasion foretold
To compound this misery, the much-touted Turkish invasion has been in the making for months. As early as March, Bush administration officials were promising the Turks that US special forces would dislodge the PKK from the Qandil mountains. Nothing happened.
In April, Barzani was threatening “to take responsibility for our response” if the Turks interfered with a referendum on the integration of oil-rich Kirkuk into Kurdistan. Also in April, the US prohibited Turkish cross-border raids, according to the Turkish daily Sabah. The massing of Turkish soldiers at the Iraqi border started in May.
Then in June, Turkish General Yasar Buyukanit virtually spelled out in public what this was all about, “There is not only the PKK in northern Iraq. There is Massoud Barzani as well. Turkey cannot afford an independent Kurdish state headed by Barzani on its southern border.” Barzani – who for Turkish popular media is the country’s public enemy number one – answered back with a startling concept; he said that if Turkey invaded, “We would deal with it as an Iraqi issue.”
So what kind of Kurdish “sovereignty” is this? Iraqi Kurds detest, and ignore, the Baghdad government like the plague, and prize their independence; but as soon as they’re threatened, they instantly seek refuge under Baghdad’s (clipped) wings.
Kurdistan and its mountainous 75,000 square kilometers is not really Iraq. Baghdad is an entity far, far away. Iraqi Kurdistan has its own constitution, parliament, anthem, legal code, language, currency and media – and most of all the well-trained peshmerga army. A democracy it is not – because virtually everything is subordinated to the two warlords turned politicians, Barzani and Talabani.
The KRG has paid the price for Kurdistan as a “model” of a functioning Iraq by collaborating no-holds-barred with the US since the early 1990s. In June, Barzani confirmed that the PKK is an Iraqi problem, “A Turkish invasion would be first of all an attack on Iraqi sovereignty, and then an attack on the Kurds.” Following Barzani’s logic, since Iraq is under occupation, the Turks would be actually invading a colonial possession of the US. Thus it should be Petraeus to confront the Turks about what they’re up to. Washington in a way has proved its point: Iraqi Kurdistan is a fragile entity that only exists because it always depended on American protection.
Turkey and Iran, united
Kurdistan’s pull in Washington is guaranteed thanks largely to Qubad Talabani, son of President Jalal Talabani, also known in Kurdistan as “Uncle Jalal.” While dad sells Kurdistan as an indisputable success story, son lobbies furiously, to the extent that Frank Lavin, US under secretary of commerce for international trade, recently went to Kurdistan to promote it as a gateway for US businesses in Iraq.
But to believe that Ankara will tolerate an oil-rich, water-rich Kurdish mini-state on its southeast border, creating a magnet for Kurdish minorities in Turkey, Iran and Syria, is to believe in miracles. Not only Turkey and Iran are vehemently against it, but also Saudi Arabia (the House of Saud believing that a Kurdistan counterpart – Shi’iteistan in southern Iraq – would be subservient to Iran). What the Bush administration’s games have achieved so far is to unite Turkey and Iran on the issue.
Turkey regards the Kurds just like China regards Tibetans and Uighurs; they are part of a unitary Turkish state and have no right to autonomy. If Washington condemns China for its repression of Tibetans and Uighurs, it should behave the same way regarding Turkey. Not only will this not happen, but now the Americans need the Turks more than the Turks need the Americans.
A true measure of White House and neo-conservative desperation to facilitate the relentless surge towards war on Iran is whether it would be willing to plunge Iraqi Kurdistan into war, compromise the Turkish-Iraq corridor (through wich flows 70% of US supplies to Iraq) and future US Big Oil investments in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Barzani keeps insisting he and Washington are in sync, both wanting a peaceful solution for this royal mess; but he always points out “we are a nation” which will not accept Turkish threats.
US plans for Iraqi Kurdistan, stretching back to that 1990 Israeli-devised Turkish plan, are in jeopardy. And once again all because of the enemy within.
Washington played the ethnic card in Afghanistan, pitting Tajiks against Pashtuns; the result, apart from a never-ending war in Afghanistan, was that Pashtuns on both sides of the border united and are now destabilizing even further the US ally, Pakistan.
Washington played the Kurd card to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and as a beachhead for its control of the country after the invasion. Not only Iraq turned into a quagmire, Washington helped to plunge Kurdistan into the line of (Turkish) fire.
There’s no evidence these lessons have been learned. No matter what happens in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Bush administration will still insist on the ethnic card to precipitate regime change in Iran.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007).