“Turkey yesterday launched the biggest attack on Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, sending more than 50 warplanes to bomb suspected Kurdish insurgent bases inside Iraqi territory,” the Guardian reported this morning. “The strike, carried out in the middle of the night, sent hundreds of families fleeing and added to the volatility of a region once considered Iraq’s most peaceful but now threatened with the prospect of a major showdown between Turkish forces and the PKK Kurdish rebels.”
The United States, the head of Turkey’s military was quoted as saying, had “opened Iraqi airspace to us” and in doing so “gave its approval to the operation.” In reply, a U.S. official told the Guardian, “We have not approved any decision. It is not for us to approve. However, we were informed before the [air strikes].” Citing a press attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, CNN International said that the United States had been told about the plans for the strikes but “reiterated that it is Turkey’s decision on whether to carry out such actions.”
This morning I received an email from an always insightful and well-connected former U.S. government official working in Kurdistan. Below is an excerpt from his email, which has been edited for length and clarity. The official’s assessment of the damage on the ground, which comes from local sources, agrees with early news reports. The Turks, meanwhile, insist that the air strikes successfully targeted the PKK.
The blowback here in Kurdistan is building against the U.S. government because of its help with the Turkish air strikes. The theme is shock and betrayal. The Kurds see themselves as the only true friend of the Americans in the region, and the only part of Iraq that is working, and are especially hurt by the attack.
The Turks are of course emphasizing that the U.S. Air Force was heavily involved in the attack. They are reveling in this turn of events. They have tried since the first Gulf War to impede or rupture the U.S. relationship with the Kurds. Since March of 2003, they have redoubled their efforts. The key factor in the air strike is what they hit–it wasn’t a collection of PKK fighters, it was a series of small mountain villages, widely disbursed, some as far as 70 kilometers inside of Kurdistan. The people killed and wounded were villagers, not PKK fighters or support people.
The initial explanation from Washington that the United States did not authorize the Turkish strike is bullshit, and every Kurd here knows it. The U.S. Air Force controls and authorizes the movement of every aircraft in, through, or around here. For Washington to say they didn’t authorize the strike, or to use some other doublespeak bullshit Washington term, just makes people here more angry.