Turkey, Iran attacks test Iraqi Kurdistan
By Patrick Markey - Reuters
August 29, 2011
Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — U.S. troops may be
leaving Iraq, but in northern Iraqi Kurdistan
another NATO power is keeping its outposts and
flexing its muscle, dispatching warplanes over the
Iraqi border to bomb separatist rebels.
Dotted along the parched Kurdish mountains inside
Iraq, Turkey has 1,300 soldiers in a handful of
observation posts set up in the 1990s with Iraqi
consent as Kurdish PKK rebels launched attacks in
their fight for self-rule.
Turkey has attacked PKK bases in Iraq for years. But
its air strikes and recent Iranian shelling across
the border are fanning Iraqi concerns over its
neighbours vying for influence in the oil-endowed
region once U.S. troops leave in 2011.
Ties between Erbil, the Kurdistan capital, and
Ankara have frayed since a Turkish air strike killed
a family of seven on last week, according to Iraqi
officials, prompting Baghdad to summon the Turkish
envoy and Kurdish lawmakers to demand that Turkey
should close its bases.
"We have seen escalations of heavy bombardments
across the border, air attacks, for targets which
don't merit that, so therefore one can conclude that
it may have something to do with post-2011," Iraqi
Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters.
Managing their neighbours is a delicate task for
Iraqi Kurdish leaders who must weigh incursions by
Ankara and Tehran against Turkish investment that
has helped make semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan the
most stable part of a still violent country.
Iraq says Turkey has 1,300 soldiers in towns like
Bamarne, where blast-wall blocks surrounded an
outpost and tanks, trucks and armored vehicles were
parked inside during a recent visit. Guards kept
watch on the valley from perimeter towers.
Little stirred on the hillside Turkish observation
post near Sheladeze at the foot of Iraqi Kurdish
mountains. Outside a tank sat idly on a spot
overlooking the road into town,www.ekurd.netwhere
Kurdish men haggled over fruit prices at a market
"No-one asked us whether those troops can be here.
It's like you staying in my house as a guest but you
really hate me and attack me," said Abdullah Ganju,
a local government worker sitting on the side of the
SEMI-AUTONOMOUS, SAFE HAVEN
Muslim Turkey, a long-time member of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a rising diplomatic
and political power in the Middle East where its
businesses are aggressively seeking opportunities.
But its raids on Iraq are unlikely to reassure Arab
nations who may be uncomfortable with Turkey's
assertive policy, said Gareth Jenkins, an
Turkey has made no official statement on the
civilian deaths but Turkish diplomatic sources say
the claims are rebel propaganda. Ankara says the
strikes on PKK fighters sheltering in Iraq have
killed around 100 PKK rebels. The PKK dismissed
those claims, saying only a few fighters were
Ankara launched air strikes in retaliation for
assaults in Turkey by the PKK, who have killed 40
Turkish troops over the past month in their
27-year-old fight for Kurd self-rule.
Yet Iraqi Kurdistan has already become a safe haven
since it was established after the first Gulf war.
Turkish investors pump cash into hotels and shopping
malls in Erbil while Spanish and British oil firms
sign deals to work in a region that may have up to
45 billion barrels in crude reserves.
"Our region has been developed and has seen progress
because our relationship with Turkey has developed,"
Erbil Governor Nawzad Hadi told Reuters. "We have to
look at reality."
Eight years after the U.S. invasion that toppled
Saddam Hussein, Iraq still battles a stubborn al
Qaeda-tied Sunni insurgency and Shi'ite militias.
Violence has dropped off sharply but bombings and
assassinations hit almost daily.
American and Iraqi officials are in talks about
whether some U.S. troops will stay in Iraq as
trainers, but the withdrawal is going as scheduled
for now when a security pact ends in 2011.
Iraqi Kurdistan has long played regional real
politic as its ruling parties, the PUK and KDP, have
been aligned at times with Tehran and Ankara. The
PKK were once openly backed by Syria.
Erbil's ties with the central Iraqi government are
also often strained by disputes between Kurds and
Iraqi Arabs over territory and oil rights.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in March became the
first Turkish leader to visit the Kurdish region
whose economic boom has been funded by its share of
Iraq's oil wealth.
"The Iraqi Kurds have good cooperation with the
Turks. There is a bigger prize here than the PKK,"
said one Western diplomat. "It's a nuanced balance
and they are playing it well."
Border incidents are now also easier to resolve with
a joint U.S., Iraqi and Turkish coordination office
But with Syria's border closed because of turmoil
against President Bashar al-Assad, Baghdad worries
foreign fighters may instead use Kurdistan's porous
border and PKK areas for shelter and to enter Iraq,
an Iraqi security source said.
Iraqi Kurdish officials acknowledge they are unable
to control the PKK in the remote Qandil mountains
and say neighbours must resolve conflicts with their
own Kurdish minorities through negotiations.
For Iraqi Kurds living on the border, where hundreds
of farmers fled to camps to evade Iranian shells and
now Turkish air raids, talks not bombs will end
Ankara's war with the PKK.
"Turkey's policy looks contradictory," said Abu
Baker Wasi, a local Kurdish official in Rania near
where the seven civilians were killed. "They make
these large investments and then they attack our
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