The Ramones once implored us not to fight on Christmas. But the Turkish general staff doesn't like the Ramones. Nor, to understate matters, does it like the Kurdish terror group known as the PKK. With the approval of the U.S. to violate Iraqi airspace, Turkish warplanes and invasion forces have killed an estimated 150 Kurds in the last week-plus, according to the Turkish military. The New York Times
Turkeyâs assertions came as Kurdish and American officials said that Turkish jets crossed into Iraqi airspace again on Tuesday, in what American officials said was the fourth such flight over the border in two weeks.
Turkish officials did not comment on claims that it flew into Iraq on Tuesday, but confirmed that it had carried out an air and ground operation early Tuesday on its side of the border in southeastern Turkey. An army statement said five rebels were killed, including two women, part of a rebel group preparing an attack.
None of these raids could have occurred without the support of the United States, which controls Iraqi airspace. At the risk of inducing strategic vertigo, here are the stakes. Turkey is a crucial NATO ally, and the major launching point for all U.S. air cargo into Iraq. It fought a war against the PKK in the 1990s, since it thinks that the strength of the PKK bolsters the desire for independence in Turkey's heavily-Kurdish southeast. Plus it says to George W. Bush that the PKK are terrorists -- rather truthfully -- the U.S. is fighting its own war on terrorists, it's all one fight, etc. So we're helping them. And how!
Rear Adm. Greg Smith, director of communications for the American-led forces in Iraq, said Turkey had notified American officials in advance of the latest raid, as is customary, telling them it was a reconnaissance flight, not a strike mission.
âThey tell us where they are going and what their mission is,â he said. âThe first three missions were all identified as strike missions. They said their intentions were to go and drop ordnance and they told us that at the time.â
âOn this occasion they told us it was a reconnaissance mission,â he continued. However, he confirmed that while the Americans monitor all such Turkish flights, they would not necessarily know if, having crossed the border, the Turkish pilots changed their mission from reconnaissance to bombing.
Good to know. On the other hand, the Kurds of northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish Regional Government fear and distrust Turkey as well. They're the closest allies the U.S. has in Iraq, and the U.S. occasionally relies on them to broker political truces between the Arab Sunnis and Shiites. They don't like being bombed and invaded, and, not unreasonably, blame the U.S. for the Turkish incursion.
Add to that the Shiite-dominated government, which has its own uneasy relationship to its American patron, looks weak in the eyes of both its own people and regional governments because a neighboring country is bombing and invading what's technically its territory with no reprisal. It comes at an inopportune time: that Shiite government is already pretty angry at the U.S. for funding and arming anti-government Sunni ex-insurgents who swear they would never dream of using their weapons against the government. And it's in the eyes of precisely those roughly 70,000 mostly-Sunni militiamen -- to say nothing of Moqtada al-Sadr and al-Qaeda in Iraq -- that the government doesn't think it can afford to look weak.
In short, Christmas-time air strikes by its powerful neighbor are exactly what Iraq wanted from Santa.