On February 21 up to 10,000 Turkish troops backed by helicopter gunships and aircraft bombers invaded northern Iraq. The ostensible aim of the Turkish government in the invasion was to stop the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) Kurdish separatist guerrillas using northern Iraq to launch attacks inside Turkey.
By Dave Carr, Socialist Party
Only after eight days of intense US government pressure and the visit of US defence secretary Robert Gates to Turkey last week, did a withdrawal of troops begin.
But when it comes to invading a sovereign country to ‘pre-empt terrorist attacks’, the US can hardly complain. After all, that is what George Bush did in Iraq in March 2003!
But the Turkish military failed in their stated aims, despite claims that they inflicted ‘heavy casualties’ on the PKK (with the loss of an admitted 24 Turkish soldiers).
The estimated 3,000 PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq are familiar with the mountainous terrain and largely evaded the Turkish troops – melting away further south into the Kurdish heartland of northern Iraq, or crossing the border into neighbouring Iran.
Many suspect that the real aim of the invasion is to undermine the Kurdish region of northern Iraq which has an autonomous status within Iraq.
Such a political entity – on the path to being a Kurdish state on Turkey’s doorstep – cannot be tolerated by Turkey’s generals and ruling class who have waged a decades-long campaign to suppress Kurdish nationalism in the predominately Kurdish area of south east Turkey.
More than 30,000 people have been killed – mainly in Turkish military operations – after the PKK launched its armed campaign for a Kurdish homeland in 1984. The PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in 1999 and its fighters sought refuge in northern Iraq.
A further reason behind the invasion is the attempt by Turkey’s powerful military elite to reassert its grip domestically to counter the recent political gains of the moderate Islamic government of prime minister Recep Erdogan.
Despite recognising that earlier Turkish incursions into Iraq have failed to dislodge the PKK, Erdogan has ridden the tide of Turkish nationalism, especially after 40 Turkish soldiers were killed in a PKK ambush inside Turkey last October.
In order to appease Turkey’s military, the US since last autumn has been supplying intelligence on PKK bases in northern Iraq, allowing Turkish airstrikes.
However, the US (which along with the EU has branded the PKK a terrorist organisation and has approved ‘hot pursuits’ of PKK guerrillas by Turkey) has been embarrassed by its Nato ally’s invasion of Iraq. Not least, because the Iraqi Kurdish leaders are America’s closest allies in Iraq and the only Iraqi ethnic group to support the US occupation of Iraq.
Moreover, the Kurdish area of northern Iraq is the only relatively stable part of a fragmenting Iraq. The concern of the US state department is that the invasion could escalate into a wider and bloodier regional conflict.
The main victims in this geopolitical conflict are the Kurdish and Turkish civilians living in the war zone. The Socialist Party has previously reported in January that bombing raids of Kurdish villages inside Iraq have killed and injured many civilians and forced thousands to flee despite the harsh winter conditions.