Do you know who this man is? He is Matthew J. Bryza.
His official biography is here. His Wikipedia entry is here, with a bit more information.
Chances are you’ve never heard of this young man but he is the Bush administration’s point man and chief negotiator for the “Eurasian” affairs, which largely means the former Soviet Union. However one of his principle duties is coordinating and implementing American policy in Turkey.
Why does this matter so much? Because this week is one of the most critical moments in history for Iraq. If things go poorly this week, then the level of violence in Iraq will increase exponentially. As dire as the NIE’s analysis is, it could be about to get a lot worse.
As I’ve stated before, Turkey is going to hold presidential elections in April and parliamentary elections in November. The nation of Turkey has been fighting a civil war with the Kurds in the southeast of that nation since about 1984. Approximately 30,000 people have been killed. It is a minor footnote in the news (if at all) in the west but it is one of the most important domestic issues in Turkey.
In the era of Saddam Hussein, the Kurdish population of Iraq was heavily repressed. Since April 2003, the Kurdish militias (known as peshmerga) have been given virtually free reign to operate as they see fit since they are heavily allied with the United States.
While this has brought peace and (relative) stability and freedom to northern Iraq, the Kurdish militias have also been sheltering and providing aid to “official” Kurdish terrorist groups who have been launching attacks into Iran, Syria and Turkey from Iraq.
For four years, Turkey has been asking the United States to pressure its Iraqi Kurdish allies to prevent these cross-border raids. Time after time, the U.S. response has been “we will” but they never do. Quite simply put, the rest of Iraq is embroiled in a civil war and there are no troops and there is no political will to alienate the Iraqi Kurdish leadership (including current Iraqi president Talabani).
At the end of January, most of the countries in the world met in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. Among the attendees was Abdullah Gul, who is Turkey’s foreign minister (equivalent to Condoleezza Rice’s position in the U.S.). He warned quite explicitly that Turkey’s patience has just about run out.
Separately, Gul urged the U.S. and Iraq to deal with several thousand PKK rebels that are based in northern Iraq, saying if they were not brought under control, Turkey would go in militarily.
“We are expecting the Americans to do it. Either they have to do this, or if they are not able to do this, we have to do this. It is so legitimate,” he said.
Ankara has been urging U.S. forces to crack down on the Turkish Kurd PKK rebels, who use Kurdish northern Iraq as a base.
Erdogan has threatened to send troops into northern Iraq to crush the rebels if the U.S. and Iraqi government forces fail to take action, though most analysts dismiss the threats as rhetoric to impress voters.
Note that the analysis was that Turkey’s threat to send in troops has been “analyzed” and “dismissed”. Not so.
Gul will be in Washington this week for high-level meetings with Condi Rice, Stephen Hadley and (the real president) Cheney. According to Turkish media, he will also meet with Speaker Pelosi, various unnamed members of the Congress as well as “the Jewish lobby”.
After Gul visits, the head of Turkey’s armed forces (General Yasar Buyukanit) will also have high-level meetings. Both men have a lot to discuss with American officials and number one on the list is a Turkish military attack on Iraqi soil.
According to today’s reports in the Turkish media:
Turkish authorities under public pressure “to do something” against the terrorists Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK ) holed up in northern Iraq have decided that limited military action like air raids and shelling terrorist hideouts in the Kandil Mountains from the Turkish side of the border is the best option for now.
The government which is trying to court nationalist votes in the November parliamentary elections feels it has to make a move action against the PKK in northern Iraq while the military rank and file are putting pressure on the Armed Forces leadership to act against the Kandil Mountains.
It’s worth mentioning here that the Kandil (also spelled Qandil) mountains lie right on the Iraq-Iran border and are also home to the PJAK (anti-Iranian Kurdish terrorists). Looking at Google Earth maps, this lies in a mountain range at approximately 10,000 feet in elevation and one of those zones (like the Pak-Afghan border) where it is very easy to “disappear” and hide.
More from the article:
Turkish officials say while the Americans have managed to grab Iranian officials in Erbil despite objections form the Iraqi Kurdish leaders the fact that they have not been able to apprehend any PKK members in northern Iraq have raised question marks in Ankara about U.S. sincerity to deal with the issue.
The article goes onto state that the Turkish parliament weighed a number of options, including a full ground invasion but decided against it because it would require too many troops and cost too much (I’m glad at least someone learned something from the Israel-Hezbollah 2006 war!).
But look at this paragraph:
Turkish sources said the Americans would turn a blind eye to a limited military operation against the PKK if Turkish jets raided the area and Turkish forces shelled the Kandil Mountains.
I think that sounds about right. Turkish politicians can show they “did something” about the PKK/PJAK and the Americans will turn a blind eye to mollify the Turks. And the Kurdish leadership will make sure that anyone of any (political) importance is removed from the area ahead of time. A few villagers get killed and everyone “goes home happy”.
Our good buddy Matt Bryza spoke to Turkish journalists last week precisely to illustrate this “tightrope walk” that the Bush administration is trying to perform between alienating/angering the Iraqi Kurds and alienating/angering the Turks:
The United States risks losing its credibility in the eyes of the Turkish people unless it soon achieves concrete results in the fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) presence in northern Iraq, a senior U.S. official said.”We know we have to deliver on the PKK. … There have to be concrete results soon,” Matt Bryza, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told Turkish reporters here on Thursday. “If we can’t, we no longer will have credibility.
You can see how Bryza is playing the line by remarks like this:
“That’s not something we’re talking about at this point,” Bryza said, when asked to comment on a possible Turkish military campaign in northern Iraq. He said the Iraqi government’s sovereignty should be respected and that all actions should be in coordination.”Please don’t attempt to see my remarks as a green light or a red light,” he said.
In other words, no April Glaspie comparisons please.
That’s the theory anyway, pacify the Turks with a couple of meaningless bombs dropped on northern Iraq. But throwing gasoline on the fire of a civil war can quite easily be predicted to cause a major backlash.
There’s a second item on Gul’s list for his visit this week and it is the future status of the city of Kirkuk.
In summary, Kirkuk is the town on the border of Iraqi Kurdistan and it has a lot of oil deposits. During the Saddam Hussein era, he brought in ethnic Arabs to water down the concentration of Kurds. Furthermore, the city is also home to a large group of ethnic Turkmen, who are physically and linguistically related to Turks in Turkey.
The concern from Turkey’s mind is that if Kurds consolidate control over Kirkuk, they will declare independence (either outright or in practice), eradicate or push out the ethnic Turkmen and use the oil wealth to fund/support the PKK and have their first realistic chance in centuries to create a Kurdish nation.
Currently (mostly Sunni) insurgents in Iraq are committing acts of sabotage and/or terrorism to destabilize Kurdish control over the city and the oil resources.
There is supposed to be a referendum (public vote) on the future status of Kirku held this year. In the same press conference, Bryza had to again walk the tightrope:
On the future of the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, containing a tense mix of Turkmen, Kurds, Arabs and Christians, and the contentious issue between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds, Bryza’s remarks somewhat differed from the U.S. official line.
When asked if he favored the holding of a controversial referendum for Kirkuk’s fate that should be held this year according to the constitution, Bryza replied, “Will it? Who knows?”
Well I can promise you this much: when Gul is in Washington he will definitely warn the United States that Kirkuk must never be a Kurdish-dominated city.
Item 3 on Gul’s list to address is somewhat more cloaked than the first two. It’s that Turkey and Iran are starting to have a lot in common. The two nations are ethnically and politically and spiritually quite different but they both are being attached by Kurdish militias staging out of Iraq.
Right now it looks like Iran has begun increasing troop strength along the northern Iraq border. I think the Iranian leadership is proposing to Turkey that if they need an ally in attacking Iraqi Kurdistan, Iran is willing to help.
Iranian forces, grouped along the Kurdistan border, have shelled a PKK offshoot in Iraq’s Kandil Mountains, and turned terrorists caught there over to Ankara. According to various reports, the Iranians have proposed a coordinated military campaign–an escalation of hugely unpredictable consequence.
There are several other issues that Gul and Buyukanit will have to discuss as well, from Armenian genocide, EU membership and weapons purchases but I wanted to focus on the above three.
What will happen if Turkey does shell or bomb northern Iraq? What will happen if Iranian forces join in? There’s no way to predict with any accuracy. It could be that this pushes Iraqi Kurds to increase cross-border attacks. It could be that Turkey’s action brings widespread international condemnation, which would push them towards Iran. It could be that Turkey’s appetite for military invention is whetted and a full-scale invasion of northern Iraq becomes a politically popular move during an election year. It could be that Iran’s involvement is twisted to justify an American military response, etc etc.
All I can say for sure is that Iraq is spiraling downward into a hell of chaos and non-stop violence and death. The last thing I ever want to see is for yet another armed group enter the fighting. If there’s an ounce of diplomatic juice left in the Bush administration, let’s hope that some kind of non-violent compromise can be reached with Turkey this week.