Turkey bombs Iraq —again!

Turkish warplanes attacked PKK guerilla positions across the border in the mountains of northern Iraq early Dec. 17, the military General Staff said in a statement. BBC reports that 10 villages were hit, and at least one person killed. A representative of the Kurdish Regional Government said the struck villages were not held by the PKK, and asserted the attacks were illegal. The representative said that while Turkish forces have previously hit Iraqi territory with artillery and helicopters, this attack marked the first time planes were used. (Reuters, BBC World Service, Dec. 16)

Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock of the US Joint Staff called for dialogue between Ankara and Baghdad to find a solution to the crisis. (Al-Sumaria TV, Dec. 16) Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), State Department counter-terrorism pointman Ambassador Dell Dailey was asked if the PKK problem could be resolved militarily or if a political solution should be sought. He replied: “We have not looked at a military solution as the solution to the PKK. Our preference is a political solution.” Asked if his remarks were for the international problem caused by the PKK’s presence in northern Iraq or for a solution in Turkey, he said: “Both in Iraq and in Turkey.” (PanArmenian, Dec. 16)

The PKK is officially designated a “foreign terrorist organization” by the US State Department.

See our last post on Iraq, Turkey and the struggle for Kurdistan.

  1. Germany: Kurds protest air strikes
    Nearly 10,000 Kurds demonstrated Dec. 15 in Dusseldorf against the Turkish air-strikes in Iraq. Some 20 people, including seven police, were slightly injured in clashes after police used truncheons and tear gas on protesters. In late November, Germany extradited to Turkey two alleged PKK followers wanted there for involvement in armed attacks. (AFP via Focus Information Agency, Bulgaria, Dec. 15)

    News reports now identify the villages as Qandil, Qlatooka, Asteawkan, Leawzhea and others in the Dandl Mountains of Iraq’s Dohuk province. One woman was reportedly killed in Asteawkan, and two residents wounded in Leawzhea. Six houses were destroyed, apparently including a schoolhouse. Local mayor Hassan Ibrahim asserted, “The people of those villages are civilian.” Yet the New York Times story in which the quote appeared was entitled “Turkey Bombs Kurdish Militants in Northern Iraq.”

    The commander of the Turkish army, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, said the United States had assisted in the operation by providing intelligence and clearance to enter Iraqi airspace.

    “We as the government are determined to use all political, geopolitical and military vehicles against the separatist terror organization in the most effective way,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Turkish television. (NYT, Nov. 17)

  2. And the United States had a hand in it…
    Turkey’s most senior general, Gen Yasar Buyukanit, said the US had given intelligence that aided the operation, but importantly, “the United States last night opened northern Iraqi airspace to us. By doing that, the United States approved the operation,” he said. (BBC, Dec. 17)

    The U.S. response has a bit muddled. First, an embassy official in Iraq told Reuters: “We have not approved any decision, it is not for us to approve. However, we were informed before the event.” (Der Spiegel, Dec. 17)

    Then, at a press briefing, a Pentagon spokesman said that the United States has given Turkey intelligence to track Kurdish fighters hiding in Iraq, but when asked specifically whether the United States gave Turkey targets used in weekend raids, Whitman said he would not “get into details like that.” (Reuters, Dec. 17)

    Then the Washington Post reports with ‘anonymous sources’ that the U.S. “is providing Turkey with real-time intelligence” is “essentially handing them their targets.” (Washington Post, Dec. 18)

    And there’s something that’s bugging me. According to a Turkish newspaper, Hürriyet, there were only nine targets, which it identifies as “the Kandil, Hakurk, Hinere, Lolan, Zap, Metina, Havasin, Haftanin, and Mahmur camps.” But, according to the BBC, there were ten targets. Who is right? If there were 10 targets, what was the unlisted target? If there were 9 targets, then why has it been misreported?

  3. Turkish incursion into Iraq
    AFP is reporting a Turkish ground incursion into Iraq. Peshmerga and PKK sources indicated an infantry unit back up by aircraft crossed the border near Khawakurt. BBC, also citing local Kurdish sources, say the Turkish forces have penetrated three kilometers into Iraqi territory.

    Interesting that the raids come just as Condoleezza Rice is making a surprise visit to Kirkuk in an effort to mediate an end to the power crisis there. Reuters puts the number of Turkish troops in the incursion at 300. Washington says it was told of the weekend air-raids in advance, but did not authorize them. Iraq’s parliament denounced the raid as an violation of sovereignty. (The Guardian, Dec. 18)

  4. 1,800 Kurds displaced by airstrikes
    The UN refugee agency expressed concern over the increasing number of people being driven from their homes by Turkey’s shelling of northern Iraq. More than 1,800 people have fled their homes in the Sangasar sub-district of Sulaimaniyah Governorate and in Doli Shahidan in Erbil Governorate last weekend, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said. (AP, Dec. 18)

    Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani refused to meet with Condoleezza Rice, charging that the US gave Turkey a “green light” to attack northern Iraq. Barzani called the attacks “crimes.” (McClatchy, Dec. 19)

  5. Turkey arrests Kurdish party leader
    From Turkish Daily News, Dec. 20:

    A military court yon Tuesday ordered that the leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) be taken into custody, over charges that a fake health report enabled him to avoid military service. The Air Force Military Court decision came after police detained the DTP’s leader, Nurettin Demirtaş, 35, as he disembarked from his plane in Ankara after flying in from Germany Monday night. “Our party has become a target. Those engaged in politics should not have their path blocked,” former DTP leader, Ahmet Türk, told a news conference. He argued that Demirtaş has no chance of obscuring evidence and his residence is known to authorities, therefore his arrest was a political move rather than a judicial procedure. The ruling puts fresh pressure on the DTP, which is facing the prospect of being closed down in a separate court case after prosecutors charged it for having ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt said last week PKK terrorists were present in Turkey’s Parliament, a veiled reference to the DTP. “Some people cannot accept our election of Demirtaş, nor our decision for a democratic attitude,” Türk said, referring to “democratic autonomy,” a phrase incorporated into the DTP’s political agenda in its November convention. “We will continue to show our democratic response in face of an unruly arrest,” Türk said. Demirtaş, who is not a member of Parliament but was elected head of the party last month, had been abroad since Nov. 18 and his party said the decision to detain him was unjustified.