Within the past four days, following a lengthy campaign of aerial bombings, a Turkish ground invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan has begun. 10,000 troops in total rolled across the border on Thursday night, according to the Turkish Daily News. This was on the pretext of hunting members of the PKK who live in camps around the mountainous north of the region. As the troops (whose numbers have been massing on the Iraqi border for months) went into Iraqi Kurdish territory at around 7 pm, the Turkish army’s general staff issued a statement which said:
“The Turkish Armed Forces, which attach great importance to Iraq’s territorial integrity and stability, will return home in the shortest time possible after its goals have been achieved”
Whether this is to be believed or not remains to be seen. Indeed, if the “achievement of its goals” is the elimination of the PKK “threat” then even taken at face value the statement is cold comfort for the Kurds – previous failed attempts by the Turkish army to eradicate Kurdish nationalism resulted in a bloody and drawn-out conflict between 1984 and 1999 which is reckoned to have claimed over 30,000 lives.
This is not a case of the military launching an operation in defiance of a civilian government, either. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK Party government in fact ordered the attack, it is believed with the tacit support of the USA – in spite of some muted protests. The US will certainly be loathe to enter a direct confrontation with a NATO partner, particuarly a regional superpower of Turkey’s standing in a part of the world where the USA is not overwhelmed by huge numbers of Muslim friends.
The Kurdistan Regional Government, headed by Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Masud Barzani, has issued a statement condemning the invasion whilst making clear that it does not support the PKK. For the time being this will suit the Turkish troops, whose lives wouldbe made considerably more difficult if Barzani were to order the mainstream Peshmerga in the region to fire on the invaders. It is, however, quite clear that the Peshmerga’s neutrality in the conflict is far from guaranteed in the longer term.
The conflict has escalated within the last 24 hours, with the Turkish army claiming to have killed 44 rebels and the PKK responding with a claim to have shot down a Turkish helicpter. The death toll will undoubtedly continue to mount over the days and weeks to come, almost certainly without any “clean” outcome one way or the other. Conventional ground forces have found since time immemorial that they can hold an area, only for it to be reoccupied by guerillas once they leave. The PKK may not have the forces to drive the Turkish forces out, but neither do the Turkish army have the means to eradicate the PKK. The result will be a bloody mess.
In a situation like this, progressive and left-wing people worldwide should stand with the people of Kurdistan whose territory is being overrun by invading troops. We should condemn any civilian deaths that the Turkish troops inflict, and we should call for those troops to be withdrawn. The Kurdish people have the right to their own territorial integrity, and the language being used by the Turkish government to justify the invasion (“terrorists” in particular) is eerily remniscent of the language used by US administration to justify the war in Iraq. We on the left stand with oppressed peoples, against such aggressors and we support the right tonational self-determination. It is for that reason and with those principles in mind that I believe we should be calling for Turkish troops out of Kurdistan.