The United States should radically rethink its relationship with Turkey. For the sad fact is that Ankara no longer seems to be an ally worthy of the name — indeed its threatened invasion of Iraq would be the act of an outright enemy. Nor has Turkey behaved like a genuine ally for more than four years.
It’s not merely that Turkey refused at the last minute to let Coalition forces invade from the north in March 2003 — though that did affect the war and its aftermath in unfortunate ways. There have been other equally serious derelictions, ranging from the refusal to allow a damaged U.S. warplane to make an emergency landing in March 2003, to active subversion of the Coalition and the post-Saddam Iraqi authorities. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has consistently played these incidents down or ignored them, thereby encouraging Turkish bullishness and contempt for American neediness.
It was a sign of Turkish malevolence to come, when, in the spring of 2003, U.S. troops in northern Iraq twice captured units of Turkish special forces operating there out of uniform. The Turkish commandos had slipped across the border and were actively working to foment trouble, urging the tiny Turkmen minority to violence and hinting at support of Sunni Arab insurgent groups if they would take on the Kurdish Regional Government.
The first occasion was on April 23 in Kirkuk, the second, on July 4, was in Sulaymaniya. The latter was labeled “The Hood Incident” in Turkey and provoked public outrage because 173rd airborne troops supposedly hooded their Turkish captives — just as they hooded all other terrorist suspects. The Turkish government and public apparently saw nothing wrong in the illegal presence of un-uninformed Turkish troops in Sulaymaniya — even though they were apparently there to assassinate a Kurdish governor — and the incident subsequently inspired the viciously anti-American, anti-Semitic, and pro-insurgency Turkish hit movie Valley of the Wolves.
Then, as now, Turkey justified its violations of Iraqi territory by the presence in Northern of Iraq of separatist PKK guerillas (small numbers of Turkish troops have been based across the border for two decades), but the arrested Turkish troops were nowhere near the remote mountain areas where the PKK are said to have their bases.
Since those 2003 incidents, the Turkish armed forces have continued to foment ethnic strife in Kirkuk and other cities in Northern Iraq that have no connection with the Turkish-PKK struggle (The Turkish military even has funded, trained, and armed a militant group called the “Iraqi Turcomen Front” which was formerly sponsored by Saddam Hussein), and in July of this year yet another Turkish special forces unit was captured, again out of uniform.
These ongoing hostile acts have tended to erode any Iraqi Kurdish willingness to act against the PKK bases in Iraqi territory, as have Ankara’s demands for a suspiciously unlimited right to “hot pursuit” of the PKK terrorists.
Moreover, Turkish covert aggressions and attempts to intimidate the KRG are of such limited military utility in the struggle to suppress the PKK that they seem, both to the Iraqis and outside observers, to have more to do with the Turkish army’s intense paranoia about any measure of autonomy for any Kurds anywhere in the Middle East.