U.S. Foreign Policy Triumphs Again! Turkey Fills the Vacuum In Iraq

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years ago

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the U.S. could not figure out how to negotiate an extension of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq, leading to the “premature evacuation” of our forces in two months time, the Turks have decided to make it clear to the world (and, more importantly, the regional powers that matter) the decidedly unmanly U.S. foreign policy.

Turkey has apparently decided that it is really just too inconvenient to keep dodging back and forth across the northern Iraqi border in pursuit of Kurdish militants.  Instead, according to this news item from August (which seems to have slipped under the collective radar), the Turks are fortifying bases in northern Iraq and settling in for a seemingly long stay.

ANKARA, Turkey, Aug. 19 (UPI) — Turkey targeted Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq for a second day, broadening the reach of its fight against the rebels, officials said.

The attacks Thursday came as Turkey said it’s turning intelligence outposts into operations garrisons to fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as PKK, to northern Iraq, where Turkey has 2,500 troops.

Turkey, which has had intelligence outposts in the region since 1995, will transform a Bamerni garrison into a logistics center for supporting major operations against PKK, Today’s Zaman reported.

The publication, citing sources, said fortification of outposts would enable Turkish troops in Iraq to stay there longer to search for members of the outlawed PKK. Bombings are to continue and units from Sirnak province will be deployed in the region, officials said.

Today’s Zaman did not give casualty figures in the latest attacks.

The 25 cross-border operations Turkey has conducted so far have been short because of pressure from allies and regional governments, but sources told Today’s Zaman Turkey would now continue operations as long as necessary to end the threat of terrorism in northern Iraq.

After a regular meeting Thursday, led by President Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s National Security Council said it’s embarking on “more effective and decisive strategy in the fight against terrorism.”

About 20 million of Turkey’s 74 million residents are Kurds, living mainly in the southeast near the country’s borders with Iraq and Iran, and the PKK’s fight for Kurdish independence has claimed 40,000 lives in the past three decades.

There are so many knife wounds in such a short story.  The actions of Turkey here could not present a stronger contrast with U.S. actions if Hollywood wanted to script it.

First off, the Turks do not seem to have learned that Iraq is a sovereign state and that any bases in Iraq used to pursue Turkey’s enemies must be subject to arduous and infinite negotiations, full of lavish offers of foreign aid and support.    How long did Turkey negotiate with Nouri al-Maliki in order to get these basing rights in a supposedly sovereign Iraq?  The article is silent but it is a safe bet that there were no negotiations.   Turkey essentially told the Iraqis, “We’re doing this.  Get used to it.”

Next, what about immunity for Turkish soldiers from prosecution under Iraqi laws?   Obama has told us that those Iraqis are absolute sticklers about this sort of thing.  Why the Iraqi people would never allow foreign soldiers on their soil who can violate Iraqi law with impunity.   The U.S. just couldn’t get that point resolved, so time to pack up in a hurry and get out of Dodge.    Somehow, though, it doesn’t look like the Turks are at all worried about Iraqi prosecutors putting Turkish soldiers in jail.

And how about that nasty Turkish attitude about a few, measly PKK fighters taking shelter in Iraq?  Kurds make up over 25% of Turkey’s population and have historic claims to parts of Turkey, Iraq and Iran.   Arguably, the Kurds were robbed of their own state when the victors of World War I split up the Ottoman Empire.   Unlike the U.S. in Pakistan, Turkey seems to have no problem treating the Iraqi border as purely optional and, now, it seems that part of Iraq itself will become effectively Turkish until the PKK is sorted out.   If that ever happens.

And what to make of Turkey’s methods for defeating the PKK?  It sure does not sound like Turkey is establishing these bases in Iraq in order to win the hearts and minds of PKK guerillas.   I sure hope that Turkish forces are going to be culturally sensitive and not commit any grievous offenses like flatulence in the presence of Iraqi Kurds, but we cannot expect that Turkish leaders will be nearly as enlightened as American leadership in this regard.  Instead, it appears that the Turks are intent on finding and killing as many of the PKK militants as possible, hence the talk by President Gul about “effective and decisive strategy in the fight against terrorism.”   Sounds way too warlike.   Not at all a COIN-centric policy.

Nonetheless, these actions by Turkey should not diminish the crowning achievement announced by President Obama that U.S. forces will be completely withdrawn from Iraq by January 1, 2012 and the war officially “over.”

Funny.  Wasn’t there a time in U.S. history when a war was not “over,” it was “won” ?

UPDATE: Michael Rubin has just posted this damning bit of information that relates how the once openly-pro American Kurds of Iraq have now (correctly) read the complete collapse of American foreign policy in the Middle East and are embracing the Iranian Regime:

The Iraqi Kurds have prided themselves on being America’s allies throughout the Iraq war and its aftermath. Repeatedly, regional leader Masud Barzani​ told visiting American generals and dignitaries that the Kurdish region was the most pro-American in Iraq.

The Kurdish authorities, however, have never made ideological alliances, but are the ultimate realists: Barzani forms partnerships with whomever he believes can most fulfill his own interests. With the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, it is clear that anyone with an ounce of self-preservation is rushing to cut deals with the Iran. After all, the most common Iranian influence theme, Iraqi politicians say, is that “You may like the Americans better, but we will always be your neighbors.” Hence, on October 29, Barzani traveled to Iran where, on Sunday, he warmly embraced both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. According to press reports, Barzani declared, “We will not forget the assistance of the Iranian people and government during the hard times passed by Iraq. To preserve our victory we need Iranian assistance and guidance….”

Everyone in the region knows that the way Iraqis negotiate is to state extreme positions as a deadline approaches, and then go behind closed doors in a smoke-filled room to hash out agreements. The Iranians often quip that they play chess while the Americans play checkers. No one expected Obama to forfeit before the game actually began. But, alas, now that he has done so, he will discover just how deeply he has lost Iraq and Iraqis.

The only consolation I can take from this is that Obama’s replacement in 2013 may be able to undo some of the terrific damage done U.S. interests in the world.   The Kurds and Iraqis at large may quickly come to regret making any deals with the Iranian Regime and may be looking for help in 2013 once the U.S. regains its senses.

  • Davod

    It won’t be long before Turkey moves to annex Mosul and Kirkuk.

  • TS Alfabet

    Yes, indeed. De Facto if not De Jure.

    And it’s not hard to imagine how Turkey will justify a growing occupation in the name of fighting terror.

    And what are the Iraqi Kurds going to do? No U.S. forces to protect them. And the Iraqi government can use Turkey as handy foil to extract all kinds of painful compromises from the Kurds on the status of Kirkuk, oil revenues, etc…

    People may complain about having troops in places like Germany, South Korea, Japan, Kuwait etc… but there is no substitute for troops on the ground when it comes to having a say at the table in regional politics.

  • AnotherSoldier

    The Kurdish people are some of the nicest people on the planet. I was deployed to Kirkuk in 2008, and it was a surprise. Little violence, few ieds, everyone is willing to help. Hell more than once families invited half a platoon into their little house and fed us all! If the good ol’ USA would support Kurdistan then they would have a friend for life.

  • TS Alfabet

    Great point, A.S.

    I wonder whether anyone in the Administration bothered to play that particular card in the negotiations with al-Maliki? How would the Kurds have responded to a shift of U.S. forces to bases in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq? With the shia and sunnis demanding Kirkuk and trying to erode the Kurds’ autonomy and with Turkey and Iran making incursions into the Kurd provinces, I would bet that the Kurdish political leaders, already pro-American, would be extremely pleased to have a U.S. footprint. And since the Kurds control a very large bloc of votes in parliament, I would guess that even the hint that the Kurds would invite in U.S. forces would be enough to have al-Maliki making all kinds of generous proposals for long-term basing.

    But, sorry, the U.S. doesn’t play power politics. We don’t get involved in these things. It’s perfectly OK with us if thousands of our best citizens are killed and wounded to re-order the Middle East and the Obama Admin just pisses it all away because we wouldn’t want to be seen as getting any benefit out of our blood and treasure invested there.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    TSA and AS, we’ve always had the option of using the Kurds as leverage against Maliki. We’ve always refused to use that. First, I blame the Bush administration for the horrible SOFA agreement. Second, I blame the Obama administration, and in the superlative degree, for perpetuating the problem and even making it worse, because at least under Bush we kept enough troops there to have some resemblance of force. Now under Obama we won’t. Sons of America may have perished for no benefit.

    It truly is a loathsome administration isn’t it?

  • TS Alfabet

    We may well end up calling this The Lost Decade in foreign policy.

    And I give Bush no excuse, that’s for sure. It is small comfort when Obama defenders say he has continued most, if not all, of the Bush programs and policies. To me, that is as much of an indictment of Bush’s approach as it is any kind of credit to Obama.

    I really and truly pity Israel these days. A prayer is about all they’ve got left. Their neighborhood went from bad to suicidal in the last 2 years. I don’t see how they are going to survive until 2013.


You are currently reading "U.S. Foreign Policy Triumphs Again! Turkey Fills the Vacuum In Iraq", entry #7824 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Counterinsurgency,Foreign Policy,Iraq,Kurdistan,Policy and was published October 31st, 2011 by Glen Tschirgi.

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