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Vol. 72/No. 11      March 17, 2008

Turkish gov’t vows to ‘teach
further lesson’ to Kurds
(front page)
WASHINGTON, March 4—The head of Turkey’s military threatened today to return troops to Iraqi Kurdistan to “teach further lessons” to the Kurds.

Thousands of Turkish troops, backed by warplanes, helicopters, tanks, and long-range artillery, invaded Iraq’s mountainous northern region known as Iraqi Kurdistan February 21. They withdrew on February 29. The Turkish government claimed it was targeting rebel bases of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The PKK has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in southern Turkey, where some estimated 15 million Kurds live.

Turkish Gen. Yasar Buyukanit said 240 Kurdish rebels had been killed. “There are further lessons that we need to teach,” he said. “We will try to inflict heavier blows on the PKK.” The Turkish military said 24 of its soldiers were killed in the operation, and that they destroyed some PKK cave hide-outs, command centers, and antiaircraft sites.

The invasion came after three-and-a-half months of bombing of Kurdish villages. Turkish government officials credited the operation’s success to Washington’s decision in November to provide Ankara with more U.S. satellite imagery and other real-time intelligence on the PKK.

U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates gave the invasion the green light until mid-March. He expressed concern that a prolonged operation could undermine the most stable region of Iraq. “It’s very important that the Turks make this operation as short as possible and then leave,” he said.

The Iraqi government issued a statement condemning the invasion of its territory as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and warned that unilateral military action by Ankara is “unacceptable.”

However, the Associated Press reported that a White House spokesman said Ankara gave Washington and its client regime in Baghdad advanced notice of the operation.

National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that “unless the PKK gives up terrorism,” the United States would “have to continue to work with the Turks and the Iraqis to go after them.”

Kurds, an oppressed nationality living in parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, have waged a long struggle for self-determination. One of the unintended consequences the imperialist assaults on Iraq in 1991 and 2003 was that Kurds took advantage of the weakening of the Saddam Hussein government to establish and strengthen a semiautonomous region in northern Iraq.

Leaders of the main capitalist parties in the region, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), have cooperated with Washington and Baghdad, especially against the PKK.

“We do not allow the use of our territory to launch attacks against any neighbor, particularly Turkey,” said Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and a leader of the KDP, in a February 27 interview with Asharq al-Awsat.

PUK leader and president of Iraq Jalal Talabani praised Ankara for ending the invasion and said he looks forward to visiting Turkey. Massoud Barzani, KDP leader and KRG president, said he looked forward to working with both Ankara and the PKK to “search for a peaceful solution.”

PKK leader Murat Karayilan told Agence France-Presse that the invasion was aimed at crippling the PKK and preventing the return of Kirkuk to Kurdistan. The oil-rich city has a large Kurdish population but is located just outside the KRG boundary. In the 1980s Hussein removed thousands of Kurds from the city and forced Arabs to replace them to ensure Baathist control. Kurds have demanded implementation of a referendum on incorporating Kirkuk into their autonomous region.

Meanwhile, on February 27 the Iraqi presidential council rejected a law passed two weeks earlier by parliament that would have given broader powers to provincial governments. It was among three bills that are part of 18 “benchmarks” set by the U.S. government to measure Baghdad’s progress on achieving political stability among Shiite and Sunni capitalist forces competing for control of Iraq’s oil and other resources.

The largest capitalist Shiite party in Iraq’s parliament, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), along with the main Kurdish parties, support stronger provincial governments. Iraq’s main oil reserves are in the mostly Shiite south and Kurdish north. The Kurds also seek to strengthen and extend their autonomous region.

Wealthy Sunni forces and supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr want a stronger central government as leverage against SIIC and the Kurds.

Two other bills included a $48 billion state budget and an amnesty law that would benefit thousands of Sunnis being held in U.S. and Iraqi jails. There are some 24,000 Iraqis being held in U.S. jails and thousands more in Iraqi-run detention centers.

The budget earmarks 17 percent for the Kurdish region. That was passed with the provision that it be reviewed in 2009 after a census to be completed this year.  
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