Saturday, September 12, 2015

Turkey escalating conflict with Kurds threatening civil war

Less than a week after the Turkish parliament authorised its military to carry out ground operations in Syria and Iraq, the Turkish military is carrying out operations against the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in the mountains of northern Iraq.
At the time the motion was passed last week, the government emphasized the move was part of the war against the Islamic State. The pro-Kurdish opposition (HDP) in the parliament objected to the move — it thought it would be used to attack the PKK rather than the Islamic State. The motion also authorizes continued air strikes which are also being used against the PKK as well as the Islamic State.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by some including the U.S. and Turkey but not China, Russia, or even Egypt. There is a long history of conflict with Turkey described in some detail here. In 2013 the PKK declared a ceasefire with Turkey and began withdrawing fighters within Turkey into northern Iraq. The PKK have been active in fighting against the Islamic State. They were instrumental in helping "tens of thousands" of Yazidis escape when they were encircled by the Islamic State on Mt. Sinjar. The ceasefire was often violated with Turkey bombing Kurd positions in 2014 but any hope of the ceasefire holding was ended when along with its first air attacks against the Islamic State, Turkey launched a series of bombing raids against PKK positions in Iraq.
The bombings have set off a series of attacks blamed on the PKK within Turkey. 16 soldiers were killed in one day and another 14 police officers the next day. Many critics of Erdogan suggest that he is using the renewed clashes as a means to improve his chances of achieving a majority in an upcoming election. The incursion of Turkish ground forces into northern Iraq is the first such move since the ceasefire in 2013. While government officials claim it is a "short term measure" to hunt down the PKK fighters in the region, it is a clear escalation of the conflict. The ground operation was accompanied by renewed air attacks on PKK positions in the area as well.
Turkish president Recep Erdogan claims the PKK had suffered "serious damage" both inside and outside Turkey and was in a "state of panic." Even more seriously damaged is the security of Turkey and any hope of an end to internal conflict. The conflict has lasted three decades and with the new Erdogan policy appears headed into another decade. The Turkish government is pledging to escalate the campaign against the PKK as elections approach on November 1st. As an Al Jazeera article puts it: "As the armed conflict deepens in Turkey, political leaders are burning political bridges needed to end the violence." The pro-Kurdish HDP party headquarters have been attacked. This party helped deprive Erdogan's AKP party of its majority last June.
The Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is a strong supporter of renewed military action vowing to "wipe out" rebel strongholds. Erdogan said that Turkey will get over the plague of terror. The government intends to deploy 5,000 police and military personnel to 20 of Turkey's most restive pro-PKK towns and cities, a recipe for more clashes. Since the renewed hostilities in June, pro-PKK youth groups have tried to control city centers, by setting up armed checkpoints and even digging trenches to combat Turkish police. This movement has been accompanied by 15 different districts declaring "autonomy." Turkish police have attempted to regain control by entering blockaded areas with armed convoys. In effect Erdogan has managed to provoke a civil war within certain parts of Turkey while rallying right-wing nationalist groups to support his crackdown.
Talks with the jailed PKK leader Ocalan have been frozen and this time he has not issued a call for another cease fire. The co-chair of the pro-Kurd People's Democratic Party(HDP), Selahattin Demirtas, has called for the PKK to immediately end hostilities. The PKK leadership refused. A pro-government Turkish daily had a photo of Demirtas with "killer" in capitals beneath it. Erdogan already has asked parliament to strip some members of the HDP of their parliamentary immunity and try them on terrorism charges. Erdogan not only is burning bridges and thus blocking a political solution to the Kurdish issue but he is also building bridges towards a quasi-fascist militaristic Turkey that will create even more instability in the middle east.


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