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Iraq: Analyst Examines Possible Turkish Cross-Border Attack

Turkish forces moving toward the Iraqi border on May 31 (AFP) June 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey is deploying tanks and other armor on its southeastern border amid speculation that Ankara may be about to launch a cross-border attack on PKK bases in northern Iraq. Turkey blames rebels of the PKK group for a recent suicide bombing in Ankara and guerilla attacks on Turkish troops in southeastern Turkey. RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mite asked Michael Rubin, a resident scholar from the American Enterprise Institute and a former political adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, about the situation.

RFE/RL: There is much debate in Turkey about whether to launch an incursion into Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region. Is Ankara really on the verge of invading Iraq?

Michael Rubin: I think they may be. There's a lot of frustration in Turkey. The Turks have been asking the Americans for more than four years now to take care of the PKK since 2003 and at the NATO summit in Istanbul in June of 2004 [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush had promised [Turkish] Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan that the United States would take action against the PKK. Now the PKK presence in northern Iraq is limited and its localized and so the Turks say, 'You can do something; it's not impossible.' I think the Iraqi Kurds may be a little bit too overconfident. After all, you have increasing violence in Turkey, an increasing PKK terrorism in Turkey. You have two elections coming up. You have the election for the Turkish parliament on July 22 and soon thereafter the parliament will select the president. And in an election campaign, you also have a situation where any episode gets amplified into the political debate. And therefore patience is really running out.

RFE/RL: Does Turkey have some proof that the Kurdish regional government is supporting the PKK?

Rubin: There are two problems here. There is one issue whether PKK fighters are crossing the border and staging attacks in Turkey and returning. That probably isn't so much the problem. The second issue is whether there are explosive and other supplies being trans-shipped from Iraq into Turkey to support the operations. The bombs that are going off in Turkey aren't homemade bombs, made with fertilizer and so forth. Some of the weapons which the Turks have discovered are weapons which were given to the Kurdish regional government. Somehow they got out of the hands of the peshmerga [the Iraqi Kurdish security force] and into the hands of the PKK.

RFE/RL: What you are saying is that Iraqi Kurds are supporting the PKK. Am I right?

Rubin: Passively, certainly. There is a dispute whether they are doing so actively. But there is no doubt anymore that they have supplied medical supplies to the PKK; they also sold foodstuffs and other material to the PKK. Whether they doing more is something that's debated. But there's very little argument that they have been supplying the PKK.

Michael Rubin at RFE/RL's Prague broadcasting center on June 4 (RFE/RL)

And recently for example, they provided medical treatment for senior PKK officials in the hospital in Irbil. And the Turks have also photographed senior PKK officials in the restaurants in Irbil and so forth, and that's escalated the crisis as well.

RFE/RL: Can this situation lead to the clash of the two NATO allies -- the United States and Turkey?

Rubin: Here, I think the Kurds are misjudging their position a little bit. The [Iraqi] Kurds would make an argument [to the United States] that 'we were your best friends and you should abandon the Turks.' What they don't understand is that if forced to make a decision, the United States is going to side with the Turks. The Turks have been a NATO ally and, despite the problems in our relationships since 2003, there's a longer history there. At the same when many Kurds a pro-American, the Iraqi Kurds have an unfortunate habit of playing both sides.

RFE/RL: Do you see a real possibility of solving the Kurdish question in Iraq?

Rubin: For the Iraqi Kurds, yes. If the issue of Iraqi Kurdistan is just the issue of Iraqi federalism, it's much more easily solved and, at the minimum, the Iraqi Kurds will have some degree, a major degree of, a major degree of federalism. They not going backward to where they were before 1991.

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Iraq In Transition

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