lundi 4 juin 2007

Turkish Tanks in northern Iraq: an unlikely solution for suicide bombers

Source: By Kerim BALCI

(TZ)ANKARA - For a long time Turkey's strategy against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was criticized as "fighting with terrorists and not terrorism." Today Turkey is discussing who the subjects and objects of the war against terrorism should be. Is it the army that needs to ask for the political will to go on, or is it the government that needs to pre-empt and ask the army to do so? Is northern Iraq the source of terrorism, or is it only the safe haven of the terrorists? Is it the PKK that deserves denouncing, or should we put the Iraqi government, the local Kurdish administration in northern Iraq and the Americans on the list of "usual suspects"? Or is there an unusual suspect in this case?

Associate Professor Sedat Laçiner, chairman of the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), believes that the oft-discussed cross-border military operation of Turkey into northern Iraq will do no good whatsoever. Laçiner believes the source of terrorism is in Turkey. "There was terrorism in Turkey even before northern Iraq was in this situation. It is obvious that the authority gap created in northern Iraq caused the situation to deteriorate, but the real source of terrorism is not at the other side of the border," Laçiner says.

He warns that a cross-border operation may even move the terrorists in northern Iraq into Turkey and that Turkey may engage in a fierce fight within its borders. "We have not dealt with those in our mountains yet. In the past, there was the central authority of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Turkey was using the powers of a state of emergency and yet we failed to solve the problem," he said.

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat also does not believe that terrorism can be eliminated solely with a cross-border operation. But he says if the state organs responsible for fighting terrorism see such an operation as necessary and ask for authority, the government will take this into consideration.

Turhan Çömez is an AK Party deputy who seems to have departed from his party already. He is also skeptical about the success of an operation run by the armed forces. "I am sure that our soldiers will fight a heroic war against the terrorists on the mountains. But I believe this process should be supported by unarmed forces as well. There should be economic, social and diplomatic operations accompanying the military one," he says.

Çömez has practical suggestions, including blocking İncirlik airbase's use by American airplanes during the military operation, closing the Habur border gate, halting the sale of electricity to northern Iraq, stopping the mobility of any logistical material into northern Iraq, banning businessmen from the Barzani family from using Turkish airspace to fly in and out of Arbil and establishing secure and friendly relations with Kurdish, Arab, Shiite and Turkoman tribes in northern Iraq.

Laçiner questions the chance of success even in a case of excellent planning on Turkey's side. "Till now, Turkey organized around 30 large and medium-sized operations. In almost all of these operations, both [Massoud] Barzani [head of the Northern Iraqi Regional Government] and Jalal Talabani used to support Turkey, and some of the operations they even participated in. This time they are very clear that they won't support such an operation and will do everything to block it.

Under these conditions, if you cross the border with 50,000 inexperienced soldiers, it is for sure that there will be losses. If you are in there with 50,000 soldiers without receiving a green light from the US, you will face several other hardships. If you lose 300-500 soldiers there, nobody will be able to carry this burden. You may well face certain greater risks while you are trying to fight terrorism." Laçiner believes that this is the reason the army does not adopt a clear discourse. Laçiner is not altogether against a military operation. "If there are limited and certain aims of such an operation, it may be successful. If you say, 'I am planning to curb the PKK's armed forces by 30 percent,' I can understand this," he says. He complains that neither the targets nor the acceptable costs of such an operation are well determined. He personally prefers a series of to-the-point operations with small task forces experienced in fighting terrorism.

Associate Professor Sadi Çaycı is an international terrorism and law specialist and an advisor to the chairman of the Eurasian Strategic Research Center. He believes that cross-border operations can be effective against military threats from the terrorist organization. "But it is hard to assert that it will be productive with respect to the entire picture," he says. Çaycı is aware of the political and military reasons that can be provided against a cross-border operation. "Such an operation can give rise to legal complications, and the region is not suitable for a military operation. Also, there are doubts about the capabilities of the US for an operation in northern Iraq," he says. "However, recent remarks from both the central Iraqi government and the regional government in northern Iraq show that we are wrong. They say that whether they have capabilities or not, they side with the PKK, and they will support the PKK, and they will not lend support to, and [would] even oppose, Turkey in the event of such an operation," Çaycı said.

Democratic Society Party (DTP) Deputy Chairwoman Nursel Aydoğan refers to PKK terrorism as the "Kurdish issue." She believes that the Kurdish issue in Turkey cannot be solved through a cross-border military operation. She points to the changing realities in the region: "The parties of Barzani and Talabani have established an autonomous Kurdish region. The US administration is not only against the current Turkish government but also will not support a cross-border operation due to the current state of Iraq. The US backs the Kurds in the region very strongly. Under these conditions, a cross-border operation will receive opposition from the US and is very unlikely to elicit any useful result," she says.

Aydoğan believes the PKK is well-prepared for a cross-border operation and will be capable of foiling any military operation. "The PKK is conducting guerrilla warfare and thus does not have a specific location. Their strategy is to leave their positions the moment the military operation starts. For this reason, the likelihood of a successful military campaign is very low, and this failure may lead to various developments in Turkey as well," she warns, and asks: "Why conduct an operation doomed to failure? Why waste economic resources to this end?"

Almost nobody expects the US to support a Turkish cross-border operation. Laçiner believes that this is partly due to the failure of Gen. Edip Başer to have the trilateral mechanism between the US, Iraq and Turkey working properly. "This mechanism was not supposed to eradicate terrorism. Its aim was to create an international awareness and public support against terrorism. If Mr. Edip [Başer] had done his work properly, a cross-border operation would be carried out far more easily. If today Turkey does not have international public support for fighting terrorism, this means we are still at the starting point. A greater part of responsibility for this situation lies with him," Laçiner says.

Çaycı is not critical of Edip Başer because he had never had any faith in the coordination mechanism set up between Turkey and the US for counter-terrorism purposes. "This is because the US is having difficult times in Iraq. I don't think the US will forget its own troubles in Iraq and set out to destroy the PKK, which it regards as a simple terrorist organization that occasionally conducts terrorist acts," Çaycı explains.

AK Party Deputy Çömez believes that the trilateral mechanism could have worked if the sides had signed a memorandum of understanding and agreed on a road map at the onset. "But unfortunately, the only function of this mechanism turned out to be busying the public, coordination and delaying the hopes of the nation," he says. "Today, our partner, the Iraqi administration, does not recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization. This means the mechanism failed to take even this decisive step," continues Çömez.

AK Party Deputy Chairman Fırat does not want to comment on either Başer's record or the prime minister's decision to discharge him. "This is what I can say about special envoy Edip Başer's dismissal," says Fırat. "The prime minister appointed him, and he is the one to discharge him. That is all."Retired Gen. Başer's comments on the unwillingness of the government to cooperate with the military and to approve a cross-border operation had created a fuss in Ankara.

Fırat reiterates Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül's recent declaration that the armed forces never asked for such an approval. "If there was such a request, they should be able to present it to the public. They should say, 'Here is the request we conveyed.'"Even the fact that there is no clear understanding on whether it is the government or the army to make the first move is oxymoronic.

Isn't the army a part of bureaucracy? Hadn't the government reminded the chief of General Staff that he is a subordinate of the prime minister? Fırat does not see any problem in the government waiting for a request from the army in order to consider a possible cross-border operation. "I am not a soldier; I don't understand this issue. Neither does the prime minister.

Who should propose such an operation? The Turkish Armed Forces, the intelligence apparatus and other relevant departments of the state. They should sit and decide that we need to do this and that. Then they should convey this to the government. And the government should reply only then. The government cannot behave as if it is an expert on terrorism. There should first be a request; otherwise, authorizing in advance means handing over authority," he explains.

Laçiner does not see why the government is presented as reluctant about an operation. "When is it that the army asks something and does not take it?" he asks. He recalls that the declaration from the chief of General Staff about waiting for authorization from the government came only two days after the National Security Council (MGK) meeting. "They could have easily raised the issue at the MGK and have gotten the authorization," Laçiner says.

Çaycı is not so sure about the decisiveness of the military wing in the MGK. "Significant changes were made to the MGK in the EU process. These changes were needed. But this time, we are experiencing weakness in the formulation of national security policy. Of course, this council cannot be supreme over the government. But it must be a council consisting of experts who can guide the government and Parliament, and this council's suggestions must be taken into consideration," he says.

AK Party Deputy Chairman Fırat is disturbed by the fact that the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) is using the situation to press against the government. "The real guilt lies with the CHP. They keep on saying that they blocked the motion [the March 1 motion authorizing American troops to use Turkish soil to move into Iraq]. But today they are asking for the opposite.

Those people who were against the motion should have listened to Deniz Bölükbaşı, who actually revealed the content of the secret agreement between Turkey and the US at that time. That agreement authorized Turkey to penetrate 25 kilometers into Iraq. The thing you are asking today to do one time, you would have been able to constantly. Today we are discussing going in and coming out. At that time we had the chance to go in and stay there," explains Fırat.

Apart from missed opportunities, people believe that there are other pieces of the puzzle to be replaced. Çömez's logic is clear: "The PKK didn't decide to announce a cease-fire on its own. I think domestic and foreign powers that are after it had a say in this. Now, by means of timing, we should search for deeper meanings in the PKK's reuse of the guns against our soldiers."

Laçiner becomes even clearer. "We have been seeing a martyrs' funeral almost every day since this presidential election process started. This is being done by the PKK. But does it act on its own, or does somebody else encourage it to do so? I think there is a share of encouragement. Besides destabilizing Turkey, these terrorist acts are also weakening the government. Who will benefit from these attacks? The CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Wasn't it the capture of terrorist Abdullah Öcalan that carried the MHP to the peak in one of the earlier elections? The more PKK attacks we have, the more votes the MHP and the CHP will get. This means either the PKK or the forces that use the PKK want such a result."

Copyright © 2005 Journal of Turkish Weekly

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