Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rumblings on the Turkish Border

Turkish aircraft and helicopter gunships have attacled Kurdish rebel positions on the Turkey/"Iraq" (de facto Kurdistan) border, and Turkish artillery has engaged in some cross-border shelling. The White House has (of course) urged restraint.
I find this all somewhat underwhelming. Shelling, and attacks by aircraft and helicopters seem like the minimum the Turkish politicians and generals can do, given the (to a degree cultivated) anger of the Turkish population towards the Kurds. This appears to be a political signal for the Americans, Iraqis and Kurds to Do Something, but, without more, I question whether it is intended to be more than that.
The terrain is extremely rough: and the Kurds have survived Saddam, the Iranians, and now enjoy a degree of protection from Washington. says that the recent Kurdish ambush near the village of Daglica that killed 17 and captured 8 Turkish soldiers was made by a rebel band of about 200. Other reports have slightly different totals of Turkish casualties. The Turkish General Staff reportedly claims that some 32 rebels have been killed in southeastern Turkey -- it is not clear if this occured in this action, or elsewhere. If Orbat is correct: the fact that a band this big can maneuver and get the drop on a Turkish unit doesn't say much good about the state of things on the Turkish side of the border. An excellent topographic map of the border region is here.
The Turks have a big army, which has historically been a good one, but I wonder if they're prepared for what they might find in Kurdistan; or if the government really wishes the political consequences of finishing-off the American alliance ? Quite aside from the difficult terrain and the unfriendly local population, the likely political and diplomatic constraints appear to make a big Turkish incursion a no-win situation for everyone but the most radical Kurdish rebels and the Iranians.


louielouie said...

and now enjoy a degree of protection from Washington.


you forgot to mention the kurds survived #41.
#43 will throw them under the first bus that comes along.
the only friend the kurds have are the hills, and no treaty from the west.
the american response to this has not yet been decided by riyadh. clueless condi insists on sensitivity training for blackwater.

louielouie said...


El Jefe Maximo said...

It was churlish of me not to mention #41, but I did use the qualifier "now" when talking about protection.

Throwing sometime allies under the bus is usually called "diplomacy."

As for the Kurds, it is a great pity that the treaty you cite - the mostly stillborn Treaty of Sèvres(1920) was supplanted by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). The first of those treaties promised the Kurds at least half-a-loaf.

In 1918, the WW I allies had the power to impose the political solution they wanted -- they were already losing it by 1920 (the allies were pulling their troops out of the Middle East, sending them home and demobilizing them), which is the main reason Sèvres didn't work, and it had vanished by 1923. Lausanne was fair precisely becuase it reflected the military facts as of that date.

Today, the political conditions simply do not exist to completely overthrow Lausanne: that is, to give the Kurds more than the quasi-autonomy they now have in Iraq. They have autonomy only because Iraq is now knocked flat. But there are three legs to the Lausanne table, and Iran and Turkey are still standing.

If the Kurds insist on more, they WILL wind up under the bus again. The sound move for the Kurds is to use the fleeting American presence to formalize and gain whatever degree of international acceptance may be possible of the current autonomy arrangement with Iraq. More will have to await another day.

If Iran was in a similar condition to Iraq, and the Turks could be somehow bought-off, matters might be different. But this is real doubtful, without forcing the Kurds over the border into Iraqi Kurdistan and Iranian Kurdistan -- that is, ethnic cleansing. Not going to happen under present conditions.

Sorry, but the only thing that shuffles borders is wars.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Thinking more on this subject. . .

The Treaty of Sèvres is a perfect illustration of how the winners of wars should NOT approach the peacemaking process. Among other things, the victorious allies:

(1) failed to agree promptly among themselves on what terms they wanted which was one cause of. . .

(2) Waiting too long to come to the green table. The allies should have demanded their terms in 1918, when they had an army on hand to enforce them. Every day that passed brought a reduction in allied power to set the peace terms, as military units left for home to either demobilize or go back to peace stations.

(3) Failing to enforce the agreed terms, while they had the military force to enforce them. (Follows from Mistake No. 2).

(4) Failure of the victors, in the euphoria of victory, to understand the real limitations on their power, in the form of demands by other states and powers, which could not be ignored; the powers the defeated enemy still retains to thwart the victorious powers; as well as the domestic constraints on the military and other means used to secure the peace terms. A successful treaty accounts for these limitations. This is probably the cardinal sin of peace-treaty writers.

Many of these faults can be observed in the 1991 Gulf War I Cease Fire.