The Turkish parliament is dragging its feet on the Gul government’s request to approve the passage of US forces to northern Iraq and the deployment of Turkish troops outside the country, both crucial building blocks for the northern invasion front against Iraq. After two postponements, parliament in Ankara deferred its vote on the motion from Thursday February 27 to Saturday, March 1.
The government in Ankara sent the motion to parliament after closing a deal with the Bush administration that hinges on three main clauses, over and above the published multi-billion dollar financial package:
A. The United States guarantees that any future Iraqi government will allot Turkey the annual sum of $2 billion from the sale of Iraqi oil produced in Mosul and Kirkuk. This sum will emanate from the oil transferred to Turkish ownership and pumped through Iraqi-Turkish pipelines. By agreeing to the arrangement, Washington recognized Ankara’s argument that Turkey’s rights over the Mosul and Kirkuk oil fields are anchored in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that liquidated the Ottoman Empire after World War One.
A senior Turkish official, explaining why his government held out on this point, told DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “The Americans and the Arabs cheated us in the first Gulf war in 1991. Twelve years later, we will not make the same mistake.”
B. Turkish armed forces will confine themselves to two main objectives in northern Iraq: covering the rear and flanks of US troops when they head south from northern Iraq towards the central region; and making sure the Kurds do not establish an independent state. The Turks undertook not to send troops into Mosul and Kirkuk or into Kurdish-controlled cities. They would also refrain from meddling in the Kurdish administration of their enclave.
Those clauses were heavily colored by the need to placate the Kurds of northern Iraq.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington, Masoud Barazani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) secretly sent a joint letter to US President George W. Bush two weeks ago, setting out their sole condition for Kurdish support of the US war on Iraq: a guarantee signed by the American president that no Turkish forces would set foot in northern Iraq.
The Kurdish condition was rejected, but the controversy on this issue is not over. Neither Kurdish nor Turkish mutual suspicions have been allayed and are capable of erupting at the wrong moment.
Foes and Troublesome Friends
An additional harassment weighing down American planning for the northern warfront is presented by the fundamentalist Kurdish terror group, which strikes at targets in Talal Jalabani’s territory from its northern enclave around the town of Baiar.
Ansar al-Islam – According to reports that appeared 10 days ago in Washington, a 5,000-man fighting force of the Iranian-backed Badr, which is comprised mainly of Iraqi and Afghan exiles, crossed into northern Iraq from Iran and joined up with Ansar al-Islam, the terrorist group linked to al Qaeda and Iraqi military intelligence. At first, Washington was alarmed, fearing the intruders would pose a serious nuisance to the US contingents due to operate in this part of Iraq.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that the US war command and Kurdish chiefs sent intelligence teams to assess the threat. They found it to have been exaggerated. The Badr fighters who had actually crossed over numbered no more than 1,000.
The US war command consequently provided Talabani and his PUK militia with heavy artillery. (The endless complexities of relationships in that crossroads region made it quite natural for the artillery to be supplied from the nearest source, Turkey).
American officers also drew up an operational plan for the PUK to mount a general assault on Ansar al-Islam to once and for all pry it out of the positions it has gained on Talabani’s turf around the hub- towns of Halajba and Suleimaniyah.
But then, as the US-Turkish-Kurdish crisis flared, Talabani decided he was in no hurry to attack. He postponed the offensive on the pretext of heavy snowfall in the mountains along the Iraq-Iran border.
On Wednesday, February 26, Iraq’s opposition groups gathered at the Kurdish town of Salahuddin – for the first time on Iraqi soil – to hear a speech by President Bush’s personal envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad. As he spoke, an Ansar al-Islam suicide bomber blew himself up at a PUK military position outside Halajba.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources note this was the second Ansar al-Islam suicide operation against Talabani this month. On February 8, representatives of the fundamentalist group arrived in Suleimaniyah offering to defect. Instead, they shot dead several of Talabani’s most senior military and intelligence officers. The Ansar suicide bomber this week will have served as a symbolic warning from the group’s sponsors, al Qaeda and Iraqi military intelligence, that the Americans and the Iraqi opposition should not be in too much of a hurry to create a post-Saddam administration, because the ruling Baath might not be their only foe inside Iraq.
As to America’s friends in Iraq, they threaten to swamp the war campaign with domestic tribal rivalries.
Turkomens – Their leaders claim a large swathe of territory running from northern Iraq to its central heartland. Some 750,000 Turkomens are also said to live in the city of Baghdad – a figure there is no way of verifying. These assets, say the Turkomen spokesmen, entitle them to a militia to be set up by the American and Turkish governments on the model of the American-backed Kurdish tribal fighting forces. President Bush’s envoy to the Iraqi opposition, Zalmay Khalizad, acceded to this request, promising Turkomen leaders and the Turkish government that Washington would establish, train and finance the costs and maintenance of a 15,000-strong Turkomen militia.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts remark that the last thing needed now on the disastrously complicated northern Iraqi military scene is the injection of yet one more fighting militia – or even less, two
Assyrians – This ethnic group, largely Christian, echoes the Turkomen demand for a militia, taking Washington, which had considered them too small to be taken them into account, by surprise. Their claim of a community numbering one million is probably inflated. It is unlikely that there are more than between 600,000 and 700,000 Assyrians in Iraq. But they cannot be brushed off. The Assyrian Democratic Party of Iraq has a strong lobby in Washington, spearheaded by a group of exceedingly rich Assyrian families. They are gaining the ears of senators and congressmen for their argument that Iraq’s Assyrians need a militia no less than the Kurds and the Turkomens.