Turkey may be getting ready to strike northern Iraq in an attempt to prevent Kurdish separatists from crossing the border and staging attacks in their country. Guerrillas of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, based in northern Iraq have been infiltrating into southeastern Turkey to attack Turkish soldiers and police and also to stage bombings. Last week, a suicide bomber killed 6 in Ankara and another bombing claimed the lives of 6 Turkish soldiers in the southeast. Reports indicate that the Turks may have had enough:
For weeks, television stations have broadcast images of military trucks rumbling along the remote border with Iraq's Kurdish zone, and trains transferring tanks and guns to bolster an already formidable force in the area. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the United States and Iraq to destroy PKK bases in northern Iraq, and did not rule out a cross-border operation. "The target is to achieve results," Erdogan said Tuesday. "Our patience has run out. The necessary steps will be taken when needed. Our expectation from the United States and Iraq is to scatter and destroy the bases of the terrorist organization in northern Iraq," Erdogan said. "They either turn them over or send them elsewhere."
Those necessary steps might include an incursion into northern Iraq to attack and destroy PKK bases. Defense Secretary Gates is urging Turkey not to take action against the terrorists that are claiming the lives of innocent Turks.
"We hope there would not be a unilateral military action across the border into Iraq," Gates told a news conference in Singapore after meetings with Asian government officials during an international security conference. He said he sympathized with Turkey's concern about cross-border raids by the PKK, listed as a terrorist group by not only Ankara but also by Washington and the EU.
"The Turks have a genuine concern with Kurdish terrorism that takes place on Turkish soil," he said, "so one can understand their frustration and unhappiness over this. Several hundred Turks lose their lives each year, and we have been working with the Turks to try to help them get control of this problem on Turkish soil."
Ironic isn't it? When faced with a similar situation last year between Israel and Hezbollah, the Bush administration gave the green light for the Israelis to launch a savage and destructive aerial bombing campaign that destroyed bridges, power plants and vital infrastructure across the entire width and breadth of Lebanon. And that was in response to a single attack by Hezbollah terrorists across the northern border of Israel.
Turkey, on the other hand, has seen hundreds of attacks by PKK terrorists who move back and forth across the northern border of Iraq on a regular basis. Shouldn't the Bush administration be supporting Turkey's right to destroy vital infrastructure from one end of Iraq to the other in order to protect themselves against terrorism?
The answer, of course, is that a Turkish assault on all of Iraq would be a wildly disproportionate response just as Israel's bombardment of all of Lebanon was. Both countries have a right to secure borders and a responsibility to protect their citizenry by attacking terrorist bases in neighboring countries that those countries refuse to eliminate. However, in conducting their legitimate self-defense they should resist the temptation to inflict collective punishment on entire populations who clearly are not responsible for the terrorist activity being conducted from their soil. The Lebanese government and military clearly was not capable of controlling Hezbollah, just as the Iraqi government has little ability to curtail the PKK.
Consistency is a concept that is sorely lacking in our foreign policy under the Bush administration. We should not deny Turkey's right to attack terrorist bases in northern Iraq in their own legitimate self defense. And we should deliver a message to the largely autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq that the US will never support countries that provide sanctuary for terrorist organizations within their borders.
Update: A suicide bombing in eastern Turkey has killed 3 Turkish soldiers. The Turks say that 30,000 deaths since 1984 when the PKK started terrorist operations.
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