Analysis: Turkey's Iraq Surge
Council on Foreign Relations
Updated: December 19, 2007
Author: Greg Bruno
After weeks of air strikes and artillery attacks, Turkey has made good on threats to send ground troops into northern Iraq. Iraqi officials say hundreds of soldiers penetrated several miles into Iraqi territory in pursuit (Bloomberg) of separatist Kurdish rebels on December 18, marking the first land invasion since the Turkish parliament approved military action in October. The Turkish military confirmed conducting a "small-scale" incursion into Iraq after its troops spotted Kurdish fighters trying to "move into Turkey" (al-Jazeera). The troops later withdrew (AP).
The incursion, while brief, threatens to resurface tensions that had partly subsided since Turkey’s vote to enable cross-border operations. The reported attacks also come on the heels of weekend air strikes and coincided with a surprise visit (CBS/AP) to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Washington is supplying Turkey with intelligence to aid military strikes (WashPost) on Kurdistan Workers Party fighters, known as the PKK, including the air strikes on December 16. Iraqi leaders condemned the air-raid (IHT) and the Washington Post notes that cooperation with the Turkish military “could complicate U.S. diplomatic initiatives in Iraq.”
Rice’s visit to the region highlighted another issue linked to cross-border tensions—the status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Turkey is worried about an emerging Kurdish state, with Kirkuk propelling its growth. The region around Kirkuk is an ethnic melting pot of Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Armenians, and Kurds. Large oil fields (EIA) lie beneath the northern city (prewar production was around 680,000 barrels per day, about a third of Iraq’s total output). And the struggle for control of Kirkuk—which is claimed by Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs alike—is fast evolving into one of the most heated regional turf wars in Iraq.
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