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Turkey and Iraq

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Many analysts are now viewing a confrontation involving Turkey, the United States, and Kurdish Iraq as a serious prospect for this summer. If things continue to develop in this direction, it will be the strongest sign so far of the deterioration of the once solid relationship between Ankara and Washington which was long a basic underpinning of United States strategy towards the Middle East.

Karen DeYoung reports in today’s Washington Post that concern about developments in Iraqi Kurdistan continues to mount in Turkey.

While President Bush’s new strategy in Iraq focuses on stopping the violence in Baghdad, trouble threatens to boil over in Iraq’s Kurdish region to the north, which the administration frequently holds up as an island of stability and a model for the future.

The long dispute between Turkey and Iraq over renegade Kurdish fighters camped on the Iraqi side of their shared border reached new heights last month. When the head of Iraq’s Kurdish regional government threatened to provoke an uprising among Turkish Kurds, Turkey responded with warnings of direct military action and an angry complaint to Washington.

Ankara has massed thousands of soldiers on its side of the border and has warned it will dismantle the camps in Iraq if the U.S. military will not use some of its nearly 150,000 troops in Iraq to do it.

The United States appears fully aware of the Turkish complaints, doesn’t appear seriously to dispute Turkey, but seems unable to do anything about it. Laura Rozen reports in a piece in National Journal this weekend:

Asked for comment on the PKK situation, one State Department official, speaking on background, said that U.S. reluctance to move more decisively against the PKK now was driven by simple realities: “There are no U.S. troops in Kurdistan,” the official said. “America has a multiplicity of problems in Iraq, and the PKK are not killing Americans.”

“The Turks are really pissed,” the official acknowledged, “but they have pulled back a bit” recently. He noted that Turkey is participating in a meeting in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, on May 3-4 involving the foreign ministers of Iraq’s neighbors, and that the Turks “have even been helpful in leaning on the Iranians in the past, and to get the Iranians to participate in regional meetings.”

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