Diplomacy appears to be faltering as the Turkish-Kurd crisis continues to broil, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti from Baghdad
Just as the Iraq-Turkey talks in Ankara failed to defuse the current crisis, Iran expressed sympathy with the Turkish position. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is said to have phoned both President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and urged them to close the camps of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and hand over its leaders to Turkey, according to the local Iraqi press.
The phone calls took place while Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan was in Tehran for talks with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki. On his way to Tehran, Babacan stopped over in Baghdad for talks. Aydin Aksu, a key member of the Iraqi Turkomen Front, told Al-Ahram Weekly that during his talks in Baghdad, Babacan said that his country was committed to the safety and integrity of Iraqi territory.
Masoud Barzani, president of the Regional Government of Kurdistan, called on the Turkish government to settle the crisis through negotiations. "The federal government should consult with us about any negotiations with Ankara," Barzani said in an apparent reference to the failure of Iraqi diplomacy. Still, Ankara threatened to attack PKK facilities in northern Iraq.
A Kurdish official speaking on condition of anonymity said that one of the stumbling blocks facing the Iraqi-Turkish talks held in Ankara last Friday was the Turkish refusal to allow the peshmerga (Kurdish militia loyal to the northern government) to take charge of border security. The Iraqi delegation to Ankara included two Kurdish officials, but they were both excluded form the talks.
Barzani said Ankara refused to receive a Kurdish delegation that was due in Turkey Monday. One of the reasons, reportedly, is that Barzani and other Kurdish leaders, men who once travelled on Turkish diplomatic passports, wouldn't call the PKK a terror group. News reports in Ankara indicate that Turkey suspects Kurdish officials of aiding and abetting PKK fighters. Ankara is particularly incensed by the refusal of Kurdish officials to hand over PKK leaders. The Kurds are also refusing to coordinate with Turkey in any military operation against the PKK.
The Turkish government is actually thinking of imposing economic sanctions on northern Iraq, according to the Turkish newspaper Sabah. Turkey can reduce electricity supplies to Iraqi Kurdistan, tighten border crossings, and obstruct Barzani's business deals in Turkey. According to the paper, the Khabur border crossing, through which 2,500 trucks pass everyday, might be subjected to "administrative measures". Should Turkey send its trucks through Syria instead of northern Iraq, the Kurdish administration would lose the $100 fee it imposes on each truck.
Barzani and his aides operate about 118 companies in Turkey, all of which may fall under punitive measures from Turkish authorities. Turkey sells electricity the Kurds at 4-6 cents a kilowatt, a much lower rate than what Turkish companies have to pay.
Kurdish officials maintain that PKK facilities have all been closed in keeping with the Iraqi constitution that doesn't allow terrorist groups to operate in Iraq. However, a Kirkuk-based Turkomen network, Turkmeneli TV, last week showed pictures of PKK flags on office buildings close to the US and British consulates. The network also aired footage of another building allegedly housing PKK radio stations. Transmission towers were clearly visible atop the building. The PKK is said to be operating these facilities in the name of the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party (KDSP).
Ruzgar Ali, chairman of the Kirkuk Governorate Council, said that the KDSP is a recognised Iraqi party and has taken part in Iraqi general elections, denying any knowledge of the PKK radio station. "This crisis cannot be resolved through military action. The only way forward is through negotiated settlement," he added.
The Iraqis are divided over Turkish threats. Some want Turkey to teach the Kurds a lesson, while others take sides with the Kurds in the hope of bringing them back into the national fold. Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani told reporters that US forces should protect Iraqi borders against any incursion by Turkey. America is after Iraq's oil and wealth and must therefore defend the country, he said.
Turkomen writer Aziz Samanci said that the PKK wants to provoke a Turkish incursion in order to drag the peshmerga into the confrontation. The PKK is hoping to push the crisis to the point where the US would have to take sides with Iraq against Iran. Interestingly, the recent attacks happened soon after a US Congress decision on Armenian massacres alienated the Turks. The PKK may also be trying to drive a wedge between Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party and the Kurdish Democratic Society Party, which has representatives in the Turkish parliament.
US Secretary Condoleezza Rice is expected in Turkey 2 November for a conference of Iraq's neighbouring states. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due in Washington 5 November for talks with President George Bush. The Kurdish crisis is likely to top the agenda of talks on both occasions.
Al-Ahram Weekly. Al-Ahram Weekly Online : Located at: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/869/re91.htm
For photo of PKK flags on office buildings near the US and British consulates see: