Ankara Threatens to Undo Kurdish Grab by Force

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the United States last week it will have to bear the consequences of ethnic turmoil in Kirkuk unless the Kurdish grab of the northern Iraqi oil city is thwarted.

“Any wrong move in Kirkuk will have a negative impact on peace in Iraq in the future,” a furious Erdogan said Thursday, January 27.

Three days later, Iraq’s general election made Turkey’s worst nightmare come true.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in northern Iraq, the two Kurdish leaders, Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani, mobilized their security service and party trucks to ferry thousands of armed Kurdish “voters” into Kirkuk from towns and villages across Kurdistan. Most of the invaders were ineligible to vote in Kirkuk, but when the non-Kurdish Sunnis and Turkmen lining up to cast their ballots caught sight of the guns they were carrying, they melted away and dropped their protests.

The stampede left no one but Kurds queuing up at the polling stations. None of the election officials dared asked them for identification. The election quickly became one big Kurdish holiday to celebrate Kirkuk sending no one but Kurdish candidates to the national assembly.

What most incensed the Turks was the brazen action of the followers of Talabani and Barzani who organized a “popular referendum” outside the polling stations, in which voters were asked whether they were for or against an independent Kurdistan. Predictably, 90% said yes. Ankara accuses Iraqi Kurds of ruthlessly exploiting the national election to extort a Kurdish state and challenges the Americans to explain why this was not prevented.

US officers in the city did make some attempt to scotch the massive election fraud in Kirkuk. After getting nowhere with friendly persuasion, they called US military headquarters in Baghdad for guidance. But the top brass was busy dealing with a wave of suicide bombings. By the time senior American officers got around to the situation in Kirkuk, it was too late; the “Kurdish vote” was in.


Turks spoiling to get back at Americans


But Turkey, always suspicious of US motives when it comes to the Kurds, was having none of it. Ankara put Washington on notice it wasn’t buying its “we tried, but failed” explanation about stopping voter fraud.

It came as no surprise to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources when the number three official in the US Pentagon, Douglas Feith, was turned aside by Turkish officials in Ankara when he came with a request this week for the use of the giant Incirlik airbase in southeastern Turkey as a logistical hub for American forces.

All his Turkish hosts wanted to talk about was how to repair the Kirkuk catastrophe. Feith explained the impossibility of voiding the results in the city without disqualifying the entire election. The Turks retorted ominously that anything was possible with the application of a little military might. They informed Feith that a task force was being prepared to cross the border and move in on Kirkuk.

Talking to reporters later, Feith spoke of the necessity for “people having an understanding of the whole picture and not losing perspective.”

If the dressing-down over Kirkuk was not enough, Turkey gave the Bush administration another jab when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas flew in for talks with Erdogan Tuesday, February 1.

Back in early December, Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul was asked by a puzzled Washington and several Middle East governments what was behind Erdogan sudden warm friendship with Iran’s rulers. Gul played down their concerns, saying all the Turkish prime minister wanted were good neighborly and economic relations with the Islamic Republic.

But immediately after shaking hands with Abu Mazen, Erdogan told him that for some weeks he had been holding an official Iranian invitation for the Palestinian leader to visit Tehran. Never after the 1978 Islamic Revolution had Iran invited Yasser Arafat for a visit. But the times and the Palestinian leadership have changed and the Iranian leadership is very eager to see and hear Abbas at close quarters.

Erdogan, our sources say, knows perfectly well that such a visit will go down badly in Washington, especially in view of the store of incriminating information the US and Israel have amassed on Iranian funding for Palestinian terrorist groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip via Lebanon and the Gulf – among them some of Abu Mazen’s sworn enemies.

Abbas, of course, accepted the invitation and promised to visit Tehran soon.

When Condoleezza Rice arrives in Turkey Saturday, February 5, she will run slap into four urgent problems: Kirkuk, Incirlik, Turkish-Iranian relations and Abbas’ trip to Tehran. This gridlock is not what the new secretary of state expected to find on her first visit to the Turkish capital.

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