Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Kurdish Minister Says Turkey’s Attacks Are Self-Defeating

Posted by vmsalama on January 7, 2008

by Vivian Salama

PostGlobal – WashingtonPost.com

The Turkish military has stepped up attacks against Kurdish rebels hiding in the mountains of Northern Iraq. Warplanes have carried out a number of cross-border raids to target the thousands of militants whom the military suspects are taking shelter in the predominantly Kurdish part of Iraq. In response to the bombings’ displacement of numerous Kurdish Iraqi families, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered the government to pay one million dinars (approximately US$ 815).The strikes followed an agreement between the United States and Turkey to share intelligence on the activities of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which was labeled a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the United States. The semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) – an important U.S. ally – has lobbied in Washington and Ankara against a military incursion. The escalating situation in Northern Iraq is expected to dominate the agenda when President George W. Bush hosts Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul at the White House on Jan. 8.Kurdish officials condemn Turkey’s attacks, saying they have done little to quell PKK activities and have only delayed a viable solution. Meanwhile, a PKK leader in Northern Iraq has vowed to take his people’s battle for autonomy deep within Turkey’s borders.

Falah Mustafa Bakir, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the KRG, says the attacks are a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. He spoke to Vivian Salama from Irbil on December 31st.

Excerpts:
Vivian Salama: At least three hundred Turkish commandos have reportedly raided Northern Iraq. What is the official response to this by the Regional Government of Kurdistan?

Falah Mustafa Bakir: The Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq demands that Turkey end immediately its military actions in Iraq. The entire political leadership of Iraq — Arabs and Kurds — is united in condemning Turkey’s attack on our territory, which is in violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Turkish forces should not be operating in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Military action moves us farther away from a solution, not closer.

Information that emerged last week suggests that President Bush may have made a deal with President Erdogan during his Nov. 5 visit to Washington, under which the Turks would get a green light to attack PKK bases. You have repeatedly made reference to Kurdistan’s strong ties with the United States. What is your reaction to this information? Were you aware of such an agreement?

The Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq counts itself among America’s best friends and allies in Iraq and the Middle East. I do not know about a “green light,” but we were aware of the widely reported agreement between the United States and Turkey regarding intelligence-sharing about the PKK.

Washington should understand the dangerous precedent and negative consequences of allowing Turkey, or any of Iraq’s neighbors, to take military action in Iraqi territory. We are appealing formally to the United States — as a close friend of the KRG, Iraq, and Turkey — to use its good offices to demand an immediate end to Turkish military action and to support a peaceful diplomatic solution to this long-running conflict. The U.S. has an important role to play in protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and in bringing all parties to the table to seek a peaceful solution.

Kurdish officials have traveled to Ankara in an attempt to dissuade Turkey from taking such actions. Still, Turkey went ahead with the raids. What does this tell you about Turkey’s willingness to cooperate with the KRG?

The KRG does not support the PKK in any way, and therefore our territory and our people should not be accountable for PKK violence against Turkish citizens and soldiers. Indeed, we have condemned these acts of violence by the PKK. Furthermore, the KRG, both publicly and privately, has made clear that it is ready to work with Turkey on a comprehensive political solution to the problem of the PKK. KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has formally offered talks with Ankara in a multi-lateral context — that is, including Turkey, US, and Iraqi officials. You would have to ask Turkish officials why they spurn KRG offers of dialogue and cooperation on the PKK and other issues, and instead resort to military force against our region of Iraq. Despite recent Turkish actions, we still are open to a political solution and willing to sit down at any time and in any place to seek a peaceful solution. It is not too late for diplomacy to succeed.

How do you think such a move by Turkey will impact the (in)stability in greater Iraq, if at all?

Turkey’s actions will only hinder efforts toward stability and national reconciliation in Iraq. This is a delicate time in Iraqi politics, with some progress being made with regard to security. The Kurdistan Region has so far been free of the sectarian violence that has consumed much of the rest of the country. The KRG’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law should be seen as a model for the rest of Iraq. An attack on our region threatens the stability and progress not only of the Kurdistan Region, but of all of Iraq. We hope the Turkish authorities will understand that these attacks will only make the situation worse for all concerned. We want peaceful and productive relations with all our neighbors, especially Turkey, and we are willing to work with them to bring stability to our common border.

What, in your belief, is the solution to the PKK-Turkey issue?

The long-term solution to the PKK problem is political, not military. It is connected to the larger issue of the role of the Kurds in Turkish politics. There has been some progress on the Kurdish issue by the current government in Turkey, but more needs to be done. We hope that Turkey will come to realize this, and that it will also understand that we in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq pose no threat to anyone. Our stability and progress should be seen by all our neighbors as a positive development.

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