Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s visits to Ankara and Tehran this week produced little or no progress toward a common plan for dealing with Turkey’s PKK Kurdish Workers’ Party rebels, who are holed up in northern Iraqi Kurdistan.
He was more successful with other matters in Tehran, where he was received by Iran’s top officials including supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Maliki used the opportunity to hold Iran to its pledge to ease Baghdad’s acute shortage of electricity. Iran has promised to build a power station in Sadr city and supply Iraq directly with electricity, as well as providing Iraq with 400,000 tons of kerosene and liquid gas during this year.
Tehran, for its part, pushed its plan for a new pipeline to carry 200,000 bpd of southern Iraqi oil to Iranian refineries. This move was directed against the Saudi-led Trans-Arabia Pipeline project (outlined in the first article in this issue.)
However, neither the Turkish prime minister Tayyep Erdogan nor Iran’s rulers believed Maliki and the Iraqi army were strong enough to deliver on his promise to crack down on the PKK. They are certain that if the conflict broadens, Maliki lacks the resources to hold back Turkish or Iranian incursions of Kurdistan to root out the rebel havens.
Neither is he capable of contending with the increasingly independent Kurdistani president Massoud Barzani, whom both Ankara and Tehran see as running out of control, heedless of Turkish troop border concentrations and forays into Iraq and the hundreds of Iranian intelligence agents planted in the Kurdish towns of Irbil, Suleimaniyeh and Kirkuk.
The Turkish government has made three appointments summoning Barzani to visit Ankara for talks. He cancelled each one at the last minute.
Barzani defies Americans too
As long as the Kurdish president declines to cooperate, American, Turkish and Iranian plans to crack down on PKK havens in his territory stay on paper.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iraq sources disclose that Barzani sent a message to Arab governments, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, with a statement of his policy.
“We Kurds are committed to abstaining from steps that would lead to Iraq’s fragmentation,” he wrote. “But by the same token, we are not willing to be the victims of a breakup. Should the efforts to install a power-sharing Shiite-Sinai central government in Baghdad fail, and each bloc go after territory and positions of strength – leading to the de facto partition of independent Iraq – the Kurds cannot be expected to stand idle.”
Our military sources add that the Kurdish president’s message was underscored by three palpable steps:
1. Kurdish peshmerga military units have seized the Sinjar heights between Tal Afar and the border with Syria.
2. Further east, near the Iranian border, peshmerga forces have seized land around the town of Khanaqin, 120 km north of the Diyalan town of Baqouba.
Our military sources in Iraq note that these two acquisitions not only reinforce Kurdish domination of northwest and eastern Iraq, but also provide Barzani with key strategic assets opposite Iran and Syria.
3. The Kurdish leader has also signaled defiance of US headquarters in Baghdad. He has notified US ambassador Ryan Crocker and US Iraqi commander Gen. David Petraeus that failing better results, he will withdraw the two and-a-half Kurdish commando brigades from US-led security operations in Baghdad.
Kurdish government members, including national president Jalal Talabani and deputy prime minister Braham Salah, appear not to share US optimism about the outcome of the current security program.