On Sunday, Turkish fighter jets bombed targets in northern Iraq, looking to strike Kurdish militants–and did so with the permission of the U.S. government, which controls the air space over Iraq. Turkey’s military chief, General Yasar Buyukanit, was quoted on Turkish television saying, “America gave [us] intelligence. But more importantly, America last night opened [the Iraqi] air space to us. By opening the air space, America gave its approval to this operation.”
This one-day military mission might have tremendous consequences that affect the U.S. position in Iraq. Last week, on this site, retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor speculated that recent developments in Iraq (the so-called Great Awakening in Anbar province and the so-called surge) could lead to a Turkish-Kurdish military conflict and land the United States in the middle of a regional war. (In Macgregor’s view, the United States would end up on the side of the Kurds, which is not what’s happening at the moment.) Given the profound political instability within Iraq, a Turkish-Kurdish war in the north could cause all efforts at national reconciliation (no matter how unsuccessful they have been so far) to collapse.
Shortly after news of the air strike broke, a former U.S. official who is trying to broker business deals in the Kurdish region of Iraq fired off an email to me. He was in Iraq at the time of the attack, and he was outraged at the U.S. involvement in the Turkish strike. He has been in contact with leading Kurds in Iraq and fears this development could lead to a great unraveling in the north. In his email (which I’ve tidied up), he wrote:
The blow back here in Kurdistan is building against the US government. There are protests and visible anger as the story of the US Air Force helping the Turks kill Kurds in the Kandil Mountains spreads. My [Kurdish] colleagues here are headed to an emergency session of the parliament. The entire [Kurdish] negotiating team left Baghdad and flew back here to attend the session. People are really upset. The Turks of course are…emphasizing that the US Air Force was heavily involved in the attack.
The Kurdish theme is one of shock, and betrayal. The Kurds see themselves as the only true friend of the Americans in the region, and the only part of Iraq that is working, and are especially hurt by the attack. The US has never killed Kurds deliberately before. We killed a lot of them in the war by accident and recklessness, which [the Kurds] managed to rationalize away, but never on purpose. We are at a loss to understand the [US government] thinking on supporting this operation.
The attack (and the USG help for it) is viewed [by the Kurds] as a deliberate retaliation against them by the USG, because the [Kurdish Regional Government] won’t fold on the issues that [U.S. Ambassador Ryan] Crocker keeps pressing them about during the talks in Baghdad. The Kurds are holding firm on Article 140 (the constitutional provision that would render oil-rich Kirkuk a Kurdish area), the revenue sharing law, and the oil law, and [Kurds are saying that] Crocker said to Nichervan [Barsani, a Kurdish leader,] “we might just let, or even encourage the Turks to come into northern Iraq to strike at the PKK,” [the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a separatist group]….
The theme taking shape is since the Kurds won’t fold on all the US demands for the Kurds to violate their own constitution, the USG will punish them. It is a shocking turn of events. [The Kurdish region] is the last bastion of US support, and the USG seems determined to destroy this too. Every issue the Kurds are standing firm on, are clearly supported by the Iraqi constitution. The USG can’t get the Iranian puppet government of Maliki to do much of anything, so they put pressure on their friends [the Kurds] to move the bar of success, and violate the very constitutional tenets that the USG insisted be written into the Iraqi constitution.
….The Kurdish people have viewed [the US Air Force] for 17 years as their protector from Saddam and external aggression, [and] now [see it] as an instrument to be feared, collaborating with the Turks. [This] is very troubling. The Turks are reveling in this turn of events. They have tried since the first Gulf war to impede or rupture the relationship of the US with the Kurds. Since March of ’03, they have redoubled their efforts. This is a huge success for the Turks. They have finally succeeded in getting the US with them, killing Kurds.
The key factor in the air strike is what they hit. It wasn’t a collection of PKK fighters, it was a series of small mountain villages, widely disbursed, some a much as 70 kilometers inside Kurdistan. The people killed and wounded were villagers, not PKK fighters or support people. Children were injured and they flattened a school. The USG should be savaged in the media for this support.
The Turks used F-16s for 2 hours between 0200 and 0400, aided by US Awacs, and flattened a series of small villages in the Khandil Mountain area. As of early today, there are 3 confirmed dead (one man, two women), and 8 wounded (four adults, four children), but two of the villages have not reported back yet. My details come from my Kurdish colleagues who are at the scene. They called in the report. The Turks flattened a series of small villages ranging between 20 and 70 kilometers inside Iraqi Kurdistan. After the initial air bombardment, they waited for people to go back to the area, then attacked again. After about 90 minutes of F-16 attacks, they began a systematic artillery shelling pattern on the villages. The following villages were completely leveled: Kubton, Ramkon, Konezereh, Panjekhah, Lau’ge, Ashkolkha, Souradeh, Enzeh, and Kalahtoukan.
A lot of people are homeless, and angry, but the PKK didn’t lose a man….This strike was designed to punish the KRG and terrorize the local kurdish population. The US Air Force could never have gotten permission to do a strike like this on their own, so why is it ok to do it WITH the Turks?
My friend is obviously on the side of the Kurds. But he raises significant questions. Who within the U.S. military and the Bush administration did authorize–or enable–this attack? Were the full implications considered? Is the Bush administration giving the green light to another war? Has the mess in Iraq just gotten worse? Reporters and members of Congress ought to press the White House for answers before this war in the north spreads.