As the Turkish-Iraqi tensions rise and small scale cross border operations begin, let’s examine Turkey’s situation and options at the moment.
First of all, much fuss was made about the recent weak agreement between Iraq and Turkey which did not include an allowance for Turkish troops to cross into Iraq in so-called “hot pursuit” operations against the PKK. Indeed, Turkey has gone to great lengths to secure some kind of international understanding for intended operations. Behind the rhetoric and seeming belligerence, lies the fear of the government that this could further isolate Turkey from the EU and US and that it may one day have to recognize the PKK or autonomous Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan in some form of official negotiations or through official agreements. While fully in its rights to engage in military operations in Iraq, it nevertheless is seeking some kind of official blessing.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Çiçek said today that “We have to explain to the rest of the world that we are right. If we don’t, we might be in a position where we are wrong. At the moment, we are working to conduct good diplomacy — or the price we’ll have to pay will be dear.” Meanwhile, the Turkish public is becoming increasingly angry and feels action is long overdue.
Turkish warplanes flew as deep as 20 kilometers into Iraqi territory and some 300 ground troops advanced about 10 kilometers, killing 34 PKK terrorists right after a deadly attack on a military unit on Sunday, which claimed the lives of 12 soldiers. [...] yesterday that F-16 jets flew sorties up to 50 kilometers inside Iraq. Heavy artillery also pounded positions inside the Kurdish-administered north, he said.
Turkey has regularly launched small attacks inside Iraqi territory and moreover maintains small forward outposts there as well. The real question, not noted in the news, is of scale. Driving this point home are the nearly 100,000 Turkish soldiers now on the border. In addition to determining the scale of an attack, the increasing Turkish threats and pressure are meant to help internationalize the conflict and gain support for its operations at home and abroad. At the moment, both the US and EU are unofficially sympathetic to the Kurdish cause.
Meanwhile, Turkey is pushing hard for a political settlement meeting with Iraqi and American officials in a last ditch effort to keep the peace. A large scale invasion would almost certainly be a disaster. The Turks would not only face experienced guerrillas on their home turf, but potentially the approximately 100,000 strong Peshmerga who are also battle hardened and have decades of experience fighting Saddam in the same area. The Turks are just as afraid of a large scale invasion as everyone else. RFERL deails what the Iraqi Kurds may be after in letting the situation escalate:
The observers say the recognition demands would at a minimum include accepting the KRG’s representatives as officials. They might also include withdrawing Turkish opposition to including oil-rich Kirkuk as part of the Kurdish self-rule region.
On top of all this, Forward Deployed notes that the whole situation doesn’t make much sense in the first place from the Turkish side.
Many Iraqi Kurds also believe that the Turkish government overplays the attention they give to how many PKK units are operating in northern Iraq in order to deflect attention away from the fact that the vast majority of PKK members operate freely in eastern Turkey and is where most of the attacks are launched from.
I think this fact is obvious considering the fact the PKK is launching these attacks on the Turkish military and killing so many soldiers because the Iraqi Turkish border is very open. The Turks supposedly have around 60,000 soldiers deployed on their border with Iraq and yet PKK terrorists are walking through open territory and sneaking up and killing well armed and trained Turkish soldiers? It doesn’t make sense which leads me to believe these attacks are actually being launched against the military from within Turkey itself and then the fighters are fleeing across the border after the attack.
So what are Turkey’s options?
1) Small scale attacks, air raids and special ops
2) Sanctions including closing the Habur border which would severely damage southeast Turkey as well.
3) Large scale ground offensive
4) Establishment of some kind of buffer zone inside Iraq
5) Secure a political agreement with Iraq (and the US) whereby PKK bases are attacked or a few token fighters captured and extradited for public trial in Turkey to satiate people’s thirst for revenge.
With America reluctant to help, Europe unlikely to give its blessing and Turkey refusing direct talks with the Kurdish Regional Government, vital communication seems to be lacking and the less of it, the more chance there is of war.