Iraq and the Turkish Two-Step

We have known for a while that Turkey has over a hundred-fifty thousand troops massed just North of the Iraqi border, sometimes lobbing artillery shells over that line, sometimes merely rattling sabers. This is something that has come and gone in American news. People over here just don’t comprehend the possibilities or the consequences of what those troops mean.

Having just returned from Turkey, where I was able to discuss the Kurdish insurgency and other issues, I would like to lay out a scenario that highlights how we can turn a potential disaster into an opportunity.

It is clear that if we precipitously pull out of Iraq, those soldiers on the border will find a purpose. They will be utilized to move into the Kurdish North of Iraq, hunt down elements they suspect of aiding the PKK, and generally start a full-scale, regional conflict with considerable, unknowable, civilian casualties, and probably provoke Iran to follow their example to snatch whatever part of Iraq they can before the Turks take all the oil rich areas.

On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be that way.

We hold all the cards in Iraq. We can make a deal, and those troops that loom so dangerously to the North, threatening a regional war, can actually be a major asset, if we play those card of ours intelligently.

We should go to the Turks and make a deal. They want border security. They are being victimized by a terrorist organization and suspect that this organization may be abetted from the Kurdish North of Iraq. We should make clear to them that invading the Kurdish area with hated Turkish troops will not bring them security; it will bring them something more akin to Chechnya. We should also say that their only other option is not to sit and be attacked. We should lay out a deal that can help all sides in this little imbroglio.

The deal would look like this; We, the united States, “do not have the resources” at the moment to hunt down the PKK and police the North of the country to Turkey’s satisfaction (whether we actually do have more resources, this is our negotiating line; limited resources). We would love to ensure that no terrorist organization is functioning in the North, especially across the Turkish border, but we simply cant spare men who would otherwise be patrolling Falluja and Baghdad. Therefore, we will go out of our way and help the Turks out. We will make a ‘trade’. For every 2 soldiers they agree to deploy in the South of Iraq (at locations of our discretion), we will station one American soldier in the North, tasked exclusively with ending all terrorist activity there (which includes Al Qaida Iraq, of course) and stabilizing the region. Why two for one? It isn’t that we consider American soldiers to be superior to Turkish soldiers (wink), it is simply that we are going out of our way to help them and we need something concrete as our “pay” or “benefit” as a result of doing them this favor.

What would be the result? Turkish soldiers in the South, patrolling Baghdad, Falluja, Mosul or wherever. A larger proportion of Muslim soldiers amongst the occupying forces, who the Sunnis at least would have a somewhat more friendly disposition towards. American troops in greater numbers in the North, neutral actors not involved in the centuries of bloodletting between the Turks and Kurds, trusted by most of the locals. The Turks have a millennia long history of forcibly keeping the peace in the Middle East and are respected by all parties. They are not too casualty-averse as some of our other allies have proved, and while they aren’t as good as American troops, they should be considered better than the Iraqi soldiers.

The Turks would be reliant on our counterinsurgency skills and capabilities, and we would have to trust them with certain areas of the country. We would be able to sell this to the Kurds as well by asking them if they would prefer soldiers with the stars and stripes on their sleeve patrolling their neighborhood, or vengeful Turks looking for payback.We would of course have to work out the deal with Baghdad, whose primary concern would be that the Turks wouldn’t leave once they entered. This would be alleviated considerably by the fact that they could never achieve a geographically contiguous ‘beachhead’ in the country, being trucked or flown into selected areas in the South rather than occupying swaths of land right up against their own border.

The net result would be a considerable freeing up of resources as we pumped up the total number of friendly troops in Iraq by probably 30,000 or more. Such numbers are completely within the capability of the Turkish army, and politically, they have the backing they need as long as the mission causes a slowdown in attacks from the PKK. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe all the ways such an increase in friendly troops would ease the mission of our soldiers, and further stifle the insurgency and terror cells. We can now observe what the ‘surge’ did for the security situation. Al Qaida Iraq performed a surge of their own in order to counter us politically, but they would be unable to keep such a frenzy of activity up for any sustained period of time, whereas the Turks would be easily positioned to stay right where they were for years if need be. The result would be a lessening of violence in Iraq, a lessening of casualties for our men and our allies, a sped up rebuilding effort, and the opportunity to use it as a plank of cooperation between Iraq and Turkey, ensuring good relations into the future, even as we simultaneously diffuse what is today a ticking bomb causing untold tensions and threatening all out war in the future. In short, this is the sort of policy that shows the difference between an administration adept at handling the Middle East and one that is not.

With the situation in Iraq what it is, we cannot afford to ignore such diplomatic/military opportunities. We also cannot ignore the problems caused by doing nothing and allowing the Kurdish/Turkish bomb to keep on ticking…

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~ by Jubal Biggs on August 18, 2007.

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