Conflict between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan

This conflict threatens to break out into violence from time to time and the US unwillingness to tackle rebels in northern Iraq is causing friction between the US and Turkey.

PM Erdogan grows furious, castigates Barzani

The New Anatolian with AP / Ankara

10 April 2007

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday retaliated to blunt remarks of an Iraqi Kurdish leader warning Iraqi Kurds against interfering in Turkey's southeast.

"The price for them will be very high," said Erdogan challenging the words by Iraqi Kurdish regional administration leader Massoud Barzani, who said Iraqi Kurds would retaliate to any Turkish interference in northern Iraq by stirring up trouble in Turkey's southeast.

"He's out of place. He'll be crushed under his words," Erdogan said. "Northern Iraq, which is a neighbor, is making a serious mistake: the price for them will be very high," he warned.

The verbal sparring was set off by Barzani over the weekend when he said in an interview with al-Arabiyah television that Iraqi Kurds could "interfere" in Kurdish-majority Turkish cities if Ankara interfered in northern Iraq.

A pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) official, party's Diyarbakir office head Hilmi Aydogdu, was arrested due to remarks resembling that of Barzani. He was then released by court.

Barzani previously told in another interview that the Kurds in Turkey should draw their own path. The change in his remarks comes amid raising tension due to looming presidential and general elections which has almost turned into a hidden fight between the allegedly political Islamist government and the secular sections of the society.

Barzani's remark also touched an extremely sensitive nerve in Turkey, where more than 37,000 people have been killed in fighting between Turkish security forces and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) since 1984, most of them in the southeastern region bordering Iraq.

Over the weekend, nine security officers were dead either in clashes or due to from landmines in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country, despite an ongoing unilateral ceasefire announced by the PKK. Turkey refused the ceasefire but the DTP, claimed to be a mouthpiece of Abdullah Ocalan, inmate leader of the terror group, has been using the PKK's decision as a tool against the government to lay ground for further political representation of Kurdish masses in Turkey.

Turkey fears that any moves toward greater independence for Kurds in northern Iraq could incite Turkey's own estimated 14 million Kurds to outright rebellion.

The political rhetoric adopted by Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party focusing on promoting all embracing citizenship notion over ethnic emphasis is seen a tool to pass through this time of ambiguity regarding the stability near its eastern border.

Turkey is also especially concerned about Barzani's bid to incorporate the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk into his semiautonomous region, fearing that Iraqi Kurds will use the city's oil revenues to fund a bid for independence.

Last week, the Iraqi government decided to implement a constitutional requirement to determine the status of Kirkuk - which is disputed among several different ethnic groups - by the end of the year. The plan is expected to turn Kirkuk and its vast oil reserves over to Kurdish control, a step rejected by many of Iraq's Arabs and its Turkmen - ethnic Turks who are strongly backed by Ankara.

Some in Turkey have hinted at military action to prevent the Kurds from gaining control of Kirkuk. Particularly, cross-border operation was seriously discussed during the second half of last year in political back corridors and Parliament gathered for a close vote in order to authorize the AK Party government for that purpose.

Barzani's remarks made front page news and drew rage in Turkey, with opposition parties criticizing the government for not responding harshly to the Kurdish leader's threat.

"We're a state whose history traces back to centuries. Our history as a state includes not only northern Iraq but also Baghdad," Erdogan challenged.

Also the foreign minister of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, expressed his uneasiness about the remarks but only said, "All will see our response."

At a press conference in Parliament, AK Party's deputy group leader Irfan Gunduz branded the remarks provocative saying he, speaking on behalf of his party, condemns Barzani's statement which came in a time when Turkey feels great sorrow due to fallen soldiers.

He also warned Iraqi Kurds saying Barzani should be capable of calculating what such remarks would cost him, both during the U.S. forces are there and after the left Iraq, and cited the consequences of irresponsible moves of Saddam Hussein.

He called Barzani's words an erroneous response to the helping hand of Turkey and added that Turkey is powerful enough to silence all threats to its security and future. "No one should try Turkey's patience," he added.

Opposition rebukes govt over remarks

The remarks also surfaced fierce reaction among the political arena in Turkey with several party leaders condemned Barzani and called on the government to employ a harder line against the regional Kurdish administration.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy group leader Haluk Koc accused Barzani of behaving arrogantly and blamed the U.S. for its support to the regional administration.

"We have to see who encourages Barzani. Who give landmines to the PKK? Are they product of the U.S.? I have to ask the prime minister, who is on a show in the Black Sea while we're grieving here [due to fallen soldiers], the foreign minister, who welcome all questions with a smile, and the interior minister, why do you remain silent? Is not 10 deaths enough to talk?" Koc concluded.

Social Democrat People's Party (SHP) leader Murat Karayalcin, in a written statement, said that the response of the people, beginning with Kurdish origin Turkish citizens, should be appropriately sharp.

True Path Party (DYP) leader Mehmet Agar also criticized the government for what he branded inaptitude and apathy in particular regarding the remarks of Barzani and in general foreign policy issues.

"His boldness is result of lack of determination of Turkey's government," said Agar referring to Barzani but added that no one should try Turkey's force. Turkey has the biggest armed forces in the region, he added.

Gul asks US to warn Barzani

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul telephoned U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday saying that he was very disturbed by Barzani's comments, reports said on Monday.

Gul reportedly asked Rice to ensure that Barzani does not again make such statements, which he described as being a threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey.

Turkey's Special Iraq Envoy Oguz Celikkol has also gone to the U.S. over the weekend to express Turkey's uneasiness regarding the recent developments.

Celikkol is also expected to raise worries about recent remarks by Retired Chief of Joint Staff of the U.S. Army General Richard Myers who stated stated on Saturday that fight against terrorist PKK is not a priority for the U.S. since essential struggle in Iraq is against the extremist groups that are violating Baghdad and other regions of Iraq.

State Minister Kursad Tuzmen, responding to a suggestion by Motherland Party (ANAVATAN) leader Erkan Mumcu to close Habur border gate for three days as a sanction, said that Turkey will do what it has to do in good time.


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