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TURKEY - The Kurdish Factor.

The extent to which Turkey will co-operate with the US will determine the level of sensitivity the US would show to Ankara's concerns about the status of Iraqi Kurdistan. On the ground, there is little that Turkey can do to prevent Iraqi Kurdistan from becoming "America's new Israel". Like the Israelis, the Kurds in northern Iraq - as well as in Syria and Iran - are an embattled community. They are discriminated against by all countries where they form a minority, and are located in the middle of a strategic region bordering key Middle East states.

Like the Israelis, who owe the creation of their state to the US, the Iraqi Kurds are now beholden to America for their deliverance from Saddam Hussein and their defence from Iraq's militant Shiites and Sunnis who are Arab. This is the only place in Iraq where the US Retd. General Jay Garner received a genuine welcome as a hero. From the US perspective, the Iraqi Kurds are a minority that deserves help. Their experiment with federal democracy in what was a northern no fly-zone until the US-led war began on March 20, has not been a failure. The Iraqi Kurdish territory also has oil, which can help secure their economic future.

The only way for Turkey to prevent the emergence of a strong autonomous (or independent) Iraqi Kurdish entity would be for Ankara to actively work towards undermining US objectives in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. This is a course of action that any Turkish government would be wary of taking, in view of the potential for a direct confrontation with the US. Nevertheless, Time Magazine reported on April 18 that US troops and CIA agents in northern Iraq caught Turkish Army special forces infiltrating the region and smuggling arms for the Turkmen communities in the oil-rich cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

Time quoted US military sources as saying that, earlier in the month, they had intercepted a unit of Turkish commandos attached to a humanitarian aid convoy in a bid to reach Kirkuk. Time said the mission of the commandos - caught with an arsenal of automatic rifles and grenades - was to increase tension between the Turkmen and Kurdish communities in Kirkuk to justify a Turkish military intervention in northern Iraq.

On April 27, Turkey's Foreign Minister Gul said these were security officials and not special forces, and were accompanying aid convoys crossing into Iraq from Turkey. He also denied they had a large cache of weapons with them. The US forces in northern Iraq later said that the Islamist government in Ankara was either lying - and they were also shocked to learn the Sunni Islamists "could be such liars as the Shiite Islamists".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Geographic Code:7TURK
Date:May 12, 2003
Words:450
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