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Playing both sides of the fence

November 2, 2007 | Page 2

IT'S OKAY for Iraq-based Kurdish guerrillas to shoot, kill and bomb with abandon--as long as their targets are in Iran. If they do the same thing in Turkey to the north, well, that's not okay.

That's the U.S. policy toward the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), historically, a Turkey-based Maoist group fighting for an independent Kurdish state. In recent years, its fighters have been given refuge by Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government--which has been a quasi-independent state under U.S. protection since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

Now, military incursions by the PKK into Turkey--home of the largest part of the Kurdish population, which is spread between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria--have led to a crisis between U.S. ally Turkey and Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government. On October 21, PKK fighters reportedly crossed the border from Iraq and killed 12 Turkish soldiers.

Turkey's military--which has 100,000 troops stationed near the Iraqi border--is pressuring Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take action. Erdogan has vowed to order an all-out invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan to crush the PKK unless Iraqi authorities crack down themselves.

But Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, vowed that "we will not hand over any Kurd to Turkey, not even a Kurdish cat."

With the Kurdish Regional Government functioning as a quasi-independent state for 5.5 million Iraqi Kurds, Talabani is under nationalist pressure to stand up to Turkey.

For its part, the Turkish government sees the emergence of the Kurdish Regional Government as a stepping stone toward the secession of its own Kurdish population, which Turkey has ruthlessly repressed in recent decades. The PKK emerged as a major force among Kurds in Turkey in a legitimate struggle for self-determination that has been promised--and denied--by the imperial powers for nearly a century.

The U.S. would prefer to focus on Iran, which it has subjected to a new round of economic sanctions aimed at the country's Revolutionary Guard. By blaming Iran for the crisis of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration--with the support of key Democrats in Congress, like Sen. Hillary Clinton--has been turning the screws on Iran.

While there are sharp differences in the U.S. foreign policy and military establishment on whether or when to attack Iran, there's a consensus that Iran can't be allowed to emerge as the dominant country in the Persian Gulf.

The PKK-Turkish crisis has pulled the spotlight away from Iran for now. The U.S. must balance between placating Turkey, a NATO member, and maintaining the Kurdish Regional Government as an island of relative stability in Iraq in order to maintain the Iraq occupation for years to come.

Complicating matters further is the fact that the U.S. relies on an arm of the PKK, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), to carry out attacks within Iran to destabilize the government there.

As the New York Times noted, the PKK and PJAK "appear to a large extent to be one and the same, and share the same goal: fighting campaigns to win new autonomy and rights for Kurds in Iran and Turkey. They share leadership, logistics and allegiance to Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader imprisoned in Turkey."

Although the PKK is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, the PJAK is not, so the group's leader, Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, got a visa to visit Washington last summer. Thus, the supposedly revolutionary and Marxist PKK has joined Iraq's Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in an unholy alliance with the region's imperial overlord, the U.S.

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THIS CERTAINLY isn't the first time that the U.S. has outsourced its political and military agenda to allegedly leftist guerrillas. In 1999, the U.S. backed the once-Maoist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during NATO's war on Serbia, manipulating the oppressed ethnic Albanian population in order to further U.S.-NATO military aims.

Today, the Bush administration wants to harness Kurdish nationalism to serve the interests of U.S. imperialism. That's the logic behind calls in Washington for a so-called "soft partition" of Iraq--in which the autonomous Kurdish region would be counterbalanced by a Shia Muslim South and a Sunni Muslim central and western area.

Leaving aside the fact that this would lead to another--and much bigger--round of ethnic cleansing in central Iraq, the creation of a de facto Kurdish state would inevitably be a destabilizing factor in the U.S. relationship with Turkey.

For now, the U.S. is trying to cobble together some sort solution to the problem--a deal with the Kurdish Regional Government to disarm the PKK along the Turkish border or even an attack on the guerrillas, perhaps with U.S. support. Failure to manage this could mean a loss of control in Iraqi Kurdistan, the one stable area of the country.

Beyond Iraq, the picture for U.S. policy in the Middle East and Central Asia isn't much better. In Afghanistan, the resurgent Taliban will make this the deadliest year for occupying forces since the U.S. invasion in 2001. In Pakistan, Washington's attempt to shore up the regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf against Islamist militants is in doubt.

"The Bush administration's entire Middle East policy is coming undone--if it even has a policy left, other than just sticking its fingers in the multiple, and multiplying, holes in the dike," wrote Middle East expert Juan Cole.

Disastrous though it may be, the U.S.'s aggressive policy will continue, even at the risk of wider war, until it is forced to retreat by resistance on the ground--and opposition at home.

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