[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

The Turks are Coming
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2007


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] If you thought that nothing worse could happen in Iraq, then guess again. Through the long and arduous Iraqi war, while Shiites and Sunnis have been attacking and killing Americans, we have had two staunch allies in the region: the Kurds in northern Iraq and the Turkish government. Now there is a risk of war breaking out between them.

During the last years of the rein of terror of Saddam Hussein, the United States developed and nurtured a close working alliance with the Kurds in northern Iraq, who had been targets of Saddam Hussein's genocide. Thousands of Kurds had been killed by Saddam over the years, and United States support for the Kurds following the first Iraqi war precluded more killing in the north. In gratitude, the Kurds have supported, albeit quietly, the American war in Iraq.

In deference to the United States' wishes, the Kurds have not pressed their longtime desire to have an independent state in northern Iraq. Rather, they have been willing to accept "half a loaf" and coexist with Sunnis and Shiites in a loose or structured confederation which ultimately may be the course for Iraq in the future. There is substantial oil in areas of northern Iraq occupied by the Kurds. Thus far, they have not mounted an effort to seize control of that oil, but have been willing to work along with the United States in our effort to have an oil revenue sharing program for the entire country.

With respect to the Turks, our relationship has been more complex. Before the United States launched its war in Iraq, our military would have preferred to move into that country from the north as well as from the south. That required approval from the Turkish government which Prime Minister Erdogan's was not willing to grant. It was an acrimonious discussion and left bitterness on both sides.

Since the war was launched, however, the Turks have permitted the United States to use a major air force base in Turkey which is critical for our military re-supply in Iraq. Likewise, Turkey has been a strong supporter of American policy generally in the Middle East and it possesses the largest military in NATO.

The problem here, as between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, is deep seeded and long running historical enmity. For hundreds of years, the Turks and Kurds have hated each other. Even within the new secular democratic Turkey, the Kurds who comprise twenty percent of the population and reside primarily in southeastern Turkey, do not enjoy equal rights within the country. Moreover, the Kurds have had a dream of succession from Turkey and creation of an independent Kurdish state.

In support of their desire for independence from Turkey, the Kurds living in that country have organized an effective military and repeatedly strike at the Turkish army. In April and May alone, thirty Turkish soldiers have been killed in attacks by the Kurds. Those attacks are continuing.

What complicates the issue so critically right now is that following killings of Turkish soldiers, the Kurdish attackers have escaped across the border into Iraq and into the Kurdish area of that country. Some in the Turkish military have wanted to pursue the killers across the border with a full scale military operation, and Turkey has moved thousands of troops close to the border threatening to do just that. The United States has been leaning hard on Turkey to back off.

One can hardly blame the Turks. Suppose that there was a group of terrorists attacking the American military at one of its bases in San Diego and then escaping across the border into Mexico. If the Mexican government did not arrest these people and turn them over to the United States, does anyone doubt that American troops would move across the border to hunt out the killers. And we would be justified in that response.

Thus far, the Turks have heeded the admonition of the United States to remain on their own side of the border, but we cannot be certain how long that will continue. Instead of leaning on the Turks, the United States government and our military should start leaning on the Kurds in Iraq. We should make it clear to them that they cannot provide sanctuary to those who conduct terrorist attack in Turkey and escape across the border. In an ideal world, we could say to the Kurds, if you don't find the perpetrators and send them back to Turkey, we will. This won't work because the U.S. military is already spread too thin in Iraq and, in any event, our situation in that country is so precarious that we cannot risk a break with the Iraqi Kurds.

This is a very delicate situation which will evolve over the next couple of months. Hopefully it will not undercut any progress we manage to make in structuring the future Iraqi government as the United States develops its exit strategy.