Iraq Slogger article (excerpt)
Across the northern borders
The Monitor’s Scott Peterson files from Istanbul, pointing out that while recent rumors of a Turkish raid into Iraqi territory seem to be false, the rumors may have serious intent: “Analysts say news of the raid is a warning to both the US and Iraqi Kurds, nominally in control in northern Iraq, to clamp down on the PKK.” While Turkey has found good reasons not to invade since 2003, a diplomat observes, the calculus may be changing, Petserson writes.
Metehan Demir, editor of the Turkish daily paper Sabah, points out that the relationship between the US and Turkey is straining under the tension as anti-US sentiment grows in Turkey. Demir adds that Turkey also faces high risks: If Turkey follows through on its threats to invade, it might find itself clashing with US or Kurdish forces, occupying a chunk of Iraq in the longer term, or withdrawing only to see the cycle repeat itself.
Sabrina Tavernise, formerly on the Times Baghdad bureau before relocating to Turkey, travels to the southeast of the country to scope out the tensions along the Turkish-Iraqi border. The Turkish military has established “security zones” along the border, she write, and Turkish forces are deployed in force along the border. The Turkish military insists that it would not move into Kurdish Iraqi areas without parliamentary approval, but other observers say anything could happen. As the security situation in Iraq deteriorates, and as US forces are pressured to withdraw from Iraq, the Turkish leadership doesn’t know “what comes next,” one Western diplomat told the Times.
Meanwhile residents of the region seem to be as wary of the increasing Turkish security presence as they are of the armed Kurdish groups that the presence is meant to quash. “It’s going to be hard,” said a local herdsman: “People will investigate and stop us. If we go to the bathroom, they’ll write down our names.”
Times editors write that “Turkey’s government needs to know that it will reap nothing but disaster” if it cross the border in a large-scale invasion. The eds back the Bush administration’s call for Turkey to stand down, but also call for more American leadership to keep Turkey from invading.
Suggesting that the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in the north are linked to the issues of Kirkuk and to regional geopolitics, the editors close, “Turkey’s leaders must understand that a major military operation in Iraq could touch off a series of regional wars and realignments that would harm Turkey far more than anything the P.K.K. could possibly cook up.”
Casualties on the Border
On Friday, four Turkish soldiers were killed near the border. According to the Associated Press, the roadside bomb targeted a Turkish military vehicle near Siirt, a city 45 miles north of the Iraq border, the governor's office said. The attack killed four soldiers and wounded five other security personnel, including pro-government village guards.
Turkey's private Dogan news agency said gunfire was heard for about 45 minutes toward midnight Thursday in the Turkish border town of Cukurca, and that Iraqi Kurds claimed Turkish shells were fired at Kurdish rebel camps in northern Iraq, along the Hezil river and near the town of Derkar.
Dogan quoted Turkish military officials as denying the allegation, and saying their activity was only a drill.
Hurriyet newspaper reported heavy artillery sounds outside the southeastern Turkish city of Hakkari last night near midnight, with Turkish Armed Forces General Staff members confirming that PKK enforcements in northern Iraq were being targeted by the Turkish military.
"Areas near the villages of Dasht Dakh, Barkh Siyara, Kashan and Mula Khamtiry of Zakho district came, late last night, under Turkish artillery shelling and machine-gun fire for almost two hours, setting villagers into a panic, but no casualties resulted," Mohammed Saleh, 52, from the nearby Darkar village told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
Luqman Keisti, 28-years old from Keista village near the Turkish border, told VOI "areas near the villages of Keista, Karah, Bitkar and Spindar came under heavy bombardment last night from the Turkish artillery."
The Turkish Army has created three temporary security zones in the southeast, which are to remain in effect from June 9 to September 9 as part of the campaign against Kurdish separatists.
Reuters reports that some Turkish media say the areas would be closed to civilian plane flights, but others said additional security measures would be implemented in the zones and entry would be restricted.
One source close to the military said Thursday the checkpoints would control access to the zones, where civilians would be barred from entering and the air space would be closed to civilian traffic.
The zones, whose coordinates were revealed on the General Staff Web site, cover uninhabited mountainous regions in the Siirt, Sirnak and Hakkari provinces, close to Turkey's borders with Iraq.
Some Turkish officials have said that if troops stage a major incursion into Iraq, they might set up a buffer zone inside Iraq to try to stop rebel infiltration.