A dense blanket of secrecy was pulled down over a 36-hour old war as DEBKA-Net-Weekly closed this issue.
Kurdistan’s situation as an island of stability in lacerated Iraq may be over.
Wednesday, June 6, thousands of Turkish troops backed by warplanes, helicopters and tanks, crossed into Kurdish northern Iraq. Thursday, the Turkish General Command’s Web site announced (in Turkish) that three eastern regions bordering on Iraq. Siirt, Sirnak and Hakkari, were closed to civilian road and air traffic for the next three months up until Sept. 9.
Since the clampdown of martial rule on the three embattled Turkish border regions, debkafile is the only Western medium reporting on this latest Middle East conflict.
debkafile‘s military sources revealed fierce fighting erupted between the Turkish army and rebels of the Kurdish Workers Party, the PKK, on both sides of the Turkish-Iraqi border Thursday.
(See also HOT POINTS below)
The Turks deployed warplanes, helicopters, tanks and self-propelled artillery, and the rebels, for the first time shoulder-borne anti-air and anti-tank missiles.
The Turkish army lost tanks and at least one helicopter in the initial onslaught.
The latest development revealed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources is that Iraqi Kurdistan has just been invaded by two forces: Turkey and Iran.
Turkish troops stormed in from the north to attack PKK rebel strongholds, while Iranian Revolutionary Guards commando units entered Iraqi Kurdistan from the east. They are fighting Iranian Kurdish rebel PEJAK fighters, while bombarding them from the air.
According to our military sources, from the beginning of the week, lines of Iranian trucks loaded with weapons such as anti-tank and anti-air missiles, heavy mortars, explosives and plenty of ammunition, crossed into Iran and halted at Suleimaniyeh, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani‘s main power base. The supplies were delivered to his son Qubad Talabani for their private militia.
The G8 leaders were too busy to notice the latest Mid East war
Turkish chief of staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanit chose Wednesday morning to launch his large-scale ground offensive against the PKK for three reasons:
1. Ankara could no longer put up with escalating Kurdish rebel terrorist attacks, which climaxed Monday, June 4, with an assault on a military outpost at Tunceli, in which 7 Turkish troops died. It was the biggest and most brazen attack the PKK had ever launched on a Turkish military target and attested to the separatist group’s enhanced ability to deploy large ground forces using tactics borrowed from Iraq’s insurgents.
Turkey’s high command decided that it was time to draw the line before it was too late.
2. The Turkish generals concluded from American inaction in the face of Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ hostile interference in Iraq that they could get away equally with ignoring the warning issued this week by US defense secretary Robert Gates and send Turkish troops into northern Iraq with impunity.
They therefore took a leaf out of Tehran’s book, first sending undercover raiding parties of several thousand troops on the quiet, certain that the Americans would not interfere. To avoid drawing fire from Washington, the Turkish military announced Wednesday the launch of a large military operation against the Kurdish rebels without mentioning that Turkish units were already inside Iraqi Kurdistan.
3. Gen. Buyukanit chose to launch his operation on the day the G8 leaders of industrial nations arrived in Germany for their summit. None of them, including US president George W. Bush, was minded at that moment to deal with pressing Iraq issues – certainly not Kurdistan. The Turkish general felt confident the Turkish operation could go forward safe from outside interference.
The only outcome the Turkish high command forgot to take into account was the markets’ response to the incursion of Iraq: July Brent traded up around 1% at $71.13 a barrel, while US light sweet crude went up 34 cents to $66.95 a barrel.
This forced a White House spokesman in the Bush party in Germany to issue a cautious denial. “No new activity had been detected in northern Iraq,” he said.
Barzani holds his options open
Once American interference was staved off, the Turks settled down to a three-month campaign lasting till Sept. 9, as attested to the dates on the military decree of martial law. They have three months to crush the PKK and root its fighters out of their sanctuaries in northern Iraqi Kurdistan. After that, the high mountains will be under snow and both the Turkish and Iranian armies will have to pull back to their own borders.
The challenge facing the 15-18,000 PKK fighters is to hang on for three months, taking advantage of the rugged Kurdistani terrain to hoodwink both their pursuers.
Much will depend on whether the Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani decides to help his beleaguered compatriots.
Barzani sent his personal emissary, Safin Dizai, to Ankara last month with a tough warning: Turkish tanks will enter Kurdistan at their peril. It will no longer be like previous incursions undertaken in hot pursuit of Turkish Kurdish rebels. This time, he said, “the people of Kurdistan will not remain spectators to the crossing of Turkish tanks and panzers into Kirkuk.”
But up until this moment, Barzani has not made good on his threat; his peshmerga have not fired a single shot against Turkish tanks inside Iraq. Like President Bush, he is turning a blind eye – for the moment.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Iraq believe, however, that the canny Massoud is in fact sitting on the fence and waiting to see how the operations against the PKK and PEJK turn out. If the rebel groups face defeat and his ex-rival Talabani, armed with Iranian hardware, begins to challenge him, Massoud may jump into the conflict and make good on his threat to fight the Turkey invaders. Talabani will then have no option but to join in the battle to fend off the invaders and defend their Kurdish brethren.
This development could engulf northern Iraqi Kurdistan and its oil resources in the flames of war. Washington will then have to take notice.