Kurds Offer Ceasefire - Turkish PM: We Won't Fight in Iraq


Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, indicated today that Turkey should confine its fight against the outlawed Kurdish separatist group known as the PKK within Turkey's borders:

"Has the fight with the 5,000 terrorists finished domestically, that we should now be talking about Iraq?" Erdogan said when reporters asked him about a cross-border operation against separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels.

Erdogan did not confirm whether he had the support of Turkey's all powerful military. However, given the way their financial markets were destabilized after their (unacknowledged) limited cross-border raid last week, the pressure on the military to comply with Erdogan's change in focus is likely building.

As for the PKK, word has come that they are offering a cease fire in exchange for peace talks, with the qualification that they would defend themselves against attack:

Kurdish separatists declared a "unilateral cease-fire" in attacks against Turkey on Tuesday and said they were ready for peace negotiations, but the group maintained the right to defend itself.

I've been suggesting for a while that the Turks and Kurds would find a way to deal with this prior to it escalating to a full scale cross-border conflict. That's because neither the Turks nor the Iraqi Kurds (the PUK/KDP) can afford a Turkish/Kurdish civil war spilling over to Iraq. Here's an analysis I did on the Turkish/Kurdish border situation on December 22, 2006:

But will the Kurds help themselves?

You've hit on a favorite subject of mine (warning: Kurdophile here).

I agree that the situation is volatile, I consider it the potential tipping point of a larger war (as in, anywhere there is a Kurdish minority -- which is a lot of borders). But, I'm not convinced the PKK will be able to hold on to their camps on the Iraq/Turkish border or in the Zagros Mountains.

So, addressing just the Turkish/Kurdish issue (the Iranian/Kurdish situation requiring a longer post):

A (very) little history: (please see this link for more)

The PUK and KDP have, in the past, chased the PKK out of their territory after negotiations with the Turks.

4 October 1992, the Kurdish government in Erbil: "PKK should either withdraw from the border bases or be expelled. And from this article in 2003:

Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul is claiming that American forces have clashed with PKK/KADEK forces in northern Iraq...

"It is true that clashes took place yesterday," Gul has said. "Not only U.S. forces but also Kurdish 'peshmerga' fighters were involved in engaging the PKK. Some U.S. helicopters were also deployed.

A Kurdish friend of mine was visiting a Peshmerga camp during that period. He was surprised to find the Pêşmerge were cleaning their weapons in anticipation of a battle with the PKK. When he asked them why they were doing it, their commander replied "Ez ĥes ji partî demokratî dikim (I like the Democratic Party)."

They have two well known sayings in Kurdistan: "Kurds have no friends but the mountains" and "Leşkerê Kurdî bi hêz e, (Kurdish soldiers are strong)".

The two sayings are intertwined. The Peshmerga are mountain guerillas with a long history of warfare. They are stronger than the PKK and, frankly, one of the reasons you don't see the Sunni/Shi'a violence spilling over the Kurdî border. This is because the Iraqi Sunni/Shi'a know how how strong they are and that they practice blood feud (kill my brother, I will kill everyone you even might be related to...).

The influence of oil:

Kirkuk is the sticking point of any agreement with the Kurds. To them, it's their Jerusalem. They want it.

Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey threw the gauntlet down about Kirkuk on this Dec. 19th Newshour interview.

Erdogan: You speak of the more peaceful north. Well, the north, there are also some issues there, as well. For example, in the city of Kirkuk, the demographics of the city are being changed, and that is like a bomb that is ticking to explode.

There are Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds who live in that area, and the demographics must reflect the situation as it is. And Kirkuk must be granted a special status based on its historical background.

There is a referendum that is planned for 2007, and I don't think the referendum results will be very positive. And, in my opinion, the referendum must be postponed.

So he's put his terms forward. Which is useful to the U.S., and not just because of the demographics. It has to do with this oil find in Iraqi Kurdistan.

So now the western oil interests have a self-interest reason to need a stable Kurdistan.

When Erdogan puts forward an ultimatum: Try to keep Kirkuk and you're screwed, he's not doing that in a vacuum.

Kurdish political activities:

The guy to watch in all of this is the son of the current president of Iraq, Qubad Talibani:

Christopher Allbritton: Qubad Jalal Talabani, the deputy representative for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Washington -- which has had sometimes warmer, sometimes cooler relations with the PKK -- told me via email:

There is much talk about US-Turkey action towards the PKK, but in reality, the US are already fighting a war on a few fronts (Al-Qaeda, Ansar, Saddam loyalists etc). The last thing would want to do is open another front. Secondly, the US and the Kurds (Iraqi), are on a very new and different playing field, in terms of the respect that each shows the other. The US would never do such actions with first consulting, and second receiving permission, from us. Our advice to the US and to Turkey has always been, the PKK are tired, regardless of what some idiots from within them think, the majority of them are ready to lay down their arms and go back to their homes. If the US can pressure Turkey into providing them with an amnesty (a real one!) then this problem will be resolved.

So... There's a Kurdish response. Find a way for some of these Turkish PKK to come home. Is he trying to help the PKK? Perhaps. Eithe way, it puts the onus on the PKK if they don't stop their terrorism.

In which case, they may just face the Kurdish Peshmerga (those best fighters in the regions) clearing out the PKK sometime in the near future.

There is also talk of the U.S. -- when they pull out of Iraq proper -- establishing bases on the Turkish/Kurdish border...another reason to clear the PKK out

MARGARET WARNER: ...There are also ideas of moving American troops up to the more peaceful Kurdish area near the border with Turkey.

What would you say should be the U.S. military posture, say, in the next six months to a year?

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: The world must be prepared for the future in Iraq. And that's what must be carefully planned, based on the experiences that exist, and it must be done by seeking wise counsel.

And by doing that, and if such a road map is prepared based on a consensus, including the views and the opinions of the neighboring countries, this will help the people in Iraq to feel more secure about their future.

So, the question becomes: Will the Kurds help themselves to keep the peace?

Given the:

  • The discovery of a large oil field in their area and the new leverage that gives the Kurds.
  • The clear statement from Erdogan regarding Kirkuk, the PKK and the hint above that he would not have a problem with U.S. troops on his border (he's stated elsewhere he'd welcome them)
  • The U.S. as appointed a special envoy for "countering the PKK," Joseph Ralston.
  • Qubad Talibani, Kurdish heir appearant, just married an American socialite and lives, for the most part, in the U.S.
  • The U.S., the EU and almost everyone else as declared the PKK a terrorist entity.

From that point of view: The PKK are the ones looking lonely. The hotspots to watch - vis-a-vis Turkey and Iraq are: Kirkuk, the overall volatility of Iraq, whether the U.S. puts their bases within Kurdistan, and, if they don't, what the Turks do to fill the void.

Either way, the Turkish/Kurdish border is one place in the Middle East where active diplomacy, albeit behind the scenes, seems to be taking place.

Whew... long winded... Sorry. Like I said, I'm a Kurdophile.

What's not in today's news reports? Just what Jalal Talabani's son, Qubad, or his counterpart, Barzani's son (the current Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government) have been discussing with Turkey, but, given the information from December, my guess would be they've been talking.

From the CNN report:

"We are renewing our declaration to halt attacks against the Turkish army," Abdul Rahman Chaderchi, the PKK official in charge of foreign affairs, said in northern Iraq, where the rebels have several bases.

"We want peace and we are ready for negotiations, but if Turkey decides to attack our bases inside Turkey or inside Iraqi Kurdistan, then this unilateral cease-fire will be meaningless. If we are attacked, we will fight back and we have the ability to confront any Turkish aggression," he added.

"We want peace and we are ready for negotiations..."

Fingers crossed.

Here's my story on the Kurds.

The link to the Reuters News Story.

The link to the CCN story with the confirmation of the PKK cease fire offer.