Turkey's ongoing operation against bases of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is unlikely to end unless the army destroys the terrorist group's command center and bases in the Kandil Mountains, located on the Iran-Iraq border, experts say.
The operation began late on Thursday and so far, troops, backed by helicopter gunships and jet fighters, have penetrated 20 kilometers into Iraqi territory, attacking PKK camps in the area. Ongoing assaults in the Zakho and Hakurk regions are expected to last three or four more days, following which the campaign will focus on the Kandil Mountains area, located about 100 kilometers from Turkish territory.
Turkish officials have declined to comment on how long the operation could continue, noting only that it will end as soon as the planned goals have been achieved. Clearing the border area of terrorist elements and then destroying the PKK's Kandil bases is seen as likely to last more than a month.
The troops are expected to advance to Kandil after securing the border area where several PKK camps are located. Experts say the military might create a buffer zone in this area to prevent future terrorist attacks on Turkey. This is expected to be done through the establishment of bases in Zakho and Hakurk similar to that of a long-time Turkish military base in northern Iraq, located in the town of Bamerni.
New era in relations with US
The ground offensive came after the Turkish government assured Baghdad and Washington that the operation targeted solely the PKK. The United States, which earlier expressed strong reservations about a land offensive into northern Iraq fearing that this would destabilize the region, appeared to condone the ongoing operation, although it warned it should be limited in time and scope.
Experts speaking to Today's Zaman said the ground offensive marked a new era in Turkey-US ties, which had deteriorated sharply in the past due to US inaction against the PKK presence in Iraq. Experts say the US's consent for Turkish operations inside northern Iraq shows that Washington has become more receptive to Turkey's concerns over Iraq and that it could mean that Washington might have a more favorable stance towards Turkish arguments that Iraq's territorial integrity must never be harmed -- through expansion of Kurdish influence in the north -- and that the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, whose control is a matter of dispute between its Kurdish and non-Kurdish residents, should hold special status. Kurds claim that Kirkuk belongs to the Kurdish region and are pressing for a referendum to approve Kurdish control of the restive city.
"The latest developments over the PKK issue have proven that it is difficult to get things done without Turkey's consent in this region. The United States needs Turkey in order to achieve peace in the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans," Hikmet Çetin, NATO's former top civilian official in Afghanistan and a former foreign minister, told Today's Zaman. "The United States is supporting Turkish operations against the PKK in order to make sure an issue like the PKK does not hamper cooperation with Turkey on these problems."
"The United States has begun to understand that the PKK issue lies at the heart of the problems in Turkish-US ties," said Kürşat Atılgan, a Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy and a former general.
But experts say Turkey may be asked to do more to help the United States in Afghanistan and maybe Iran, whose nuclear program is viewed with suspicion in Washington and is believed to be aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
"Iran is watching the rapprochement in Turkey-US ties with concern," said Sedat Laçiner, the head of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (ISRO/USAK). "For Iran, the PKK is a threat. But the rapprochement between Turkey and the United States is also against its interests."
"We do not know what is happening behind the scenes. But if it is about Iran, that means difficult days await Turkey," according to Tarık Ziya Ekinci, a Kurdish intellectual.
Ekinci also said Massoud Barzani has lost significant power due to US consent to the Turkish operation. Laçiner says about the consequence of the Turkish ground operation: "As Turkey and the US get closer, [Iraqi President Jalal] Talabani wants to get involved in this change while Barzani is taking the opposite direction. He has alienated himself from the US as well as from Talabani. The PKK's isolation has also turned into an isolation of Barzani."
Laçiner argues that this new era in Turkish-US relations has led to a postponement of Kurdish dreams for an independent state to an unknown date. "Fewer and fewer people now believe that an independent Kurdish state will emerge in the near future. US consent for the Turkish ground operation shows Kurds do not represent a player that is powerful enough to be independent. The region will be shaped depending on the relations between Turkey, the US and Baghdad, and local powers have no outlet through which they can meddle in this process," he says.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Şubat 2008, 09:50