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HOW TO COUNTER KURDISH REBELS
by Amir Taheri
Gulf News
October 31, 2007

"Our patience is running out." This is how Turkey's President Abdullah Gul has described his nation's position with regard to the presence in Iraq of the Kurdish separatist group known as the PKK, the acronym for Kurdistan Workers' Party.

There is little doubt that the PKK's recent campaign of terror, in which dozens of Turkish soldiers have been killed or captured in ambush, has inspired a degree of unity that the Turkish nation has not known for years.

Kemalist and Islamists are united in calling for military action against the PKK, a strategy that also appeals to Turkish liberals, socialists and democrats. Here we have a classical example of unity fostered by the perfection of a common enemy.

Whether or not the Turks decide to take decisive military action against the PKK, one thing is already clear: the terrorist group has isolated itself from all other political forces in Turkey. It has no allies because most Turks regard its ideology, a hotchpotch of Marxism and secessionism, as a dangerous anachronism.

The majority of Turks, whether religious or secular, support a free-market economic system that makes Turkey an active member of the global community. Over 70 per cent of the Turks want their nation to join the European Union.

An even larger segment are committed to the pluralist democratic system. To them, the PKK's stale slogans of the dictatorship of the proletariat, armed struggle and centrally controlled economy, sound like lunatic ramblings from another age.

Thus if the Turkish army were to enter Iraq en masse to destroy the PKK's bases there, almost all Turks will unite in cheering on the soldiers. It is against that background that the PKK's strategy appears to be suicidal.

Ethnic Kurds account for some 15 per cent of Turkey's population of 67 million. But even among them the PKK appeals to no more than a shrinking minority. Through legal political action, Turkish Kurds have won and are capable of winning rights that no amount of terrorism by PKK could ever achieve for them.

These are some of the facts that all those concerned, especially the leadership of the Iraqi Kurds who have covered the PKK so far, need to understand.

The Bush administration has advised Turkey to show restraint. But it has not offered a credible alternative to the use of force. Thus most Turks believe that they have as much right to defend themselves against terror attacks launched from a foreign territory than the Americans did after they were attacked on 9/11.

As for Iraqi leaders they must realise that they cannot expect other countries not to host terrorists who kill and maim innocent Iraqis while they themselves provide the PKK with a safe haven. This is a goose and gander situation that no one can explain away.

Using force

That the Turks are thinking of using force to deal with the PKK need surprise no one. For years Turkey tolerated the PKK's presence in Syria in the hope that diplomatic and political pressure might persuade Damascus to stop protecting the terrorists.

When it became obvious that there would be no such change in Syrian policy, Turkey massed its forces on the border and offered the leadership in Damascus a choice between getting rid of the PKK or risking a war against the Turkish army.

The Ba'athist leaders decided to jettison the PKK and thus avoided war. That was almost a decade ago. Today; the new Iraqi leadership faces a similar choice.

As far as the United Nations is concerned, Turkey has a very good cause for taking military action against the PKK's bases inside Iraq. For it should have no difficulty to demonstrate that it is acting in self-defence against a clear and present danger from those bases.

Turkey would also have the weight of precedence in its favour. To start with it can easily show that it has been sending troops into Iraq, at times to the depth of 50 kilometres, to act against terrorists since October 1991 and with the consent of the Iraqi government.

It could also show that its neighbour Iran has been attacking the bases of its own Kurdish enemies inside Iraq since 2004.

It is, of course, not at all certain that even the most massive Turkish military intervention against the PKK would succeed in eliminating its threat. What is needed, therefore, is a regional framework for dealing with the PKK.

In the very least, this means that Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Armenia should stop playing the PKK, and other Kurdish secessionist cards, against one another. And that, of course, is not going to happen anytime soon. Therefore, Turkey may be left with no option but invading northern Iraq, at least to show that, when attacked, it hits back.

And it is in that context that any Turkish military action inside Iraq could have far-reaching consequences.

If Turkey intervenes in Iraq it would endorse the doctrine according to which terrorism without frontier should be dealt with through counter-terrorism that transcends national borders.

And that could amount to a licence to all nations to act anywhere and anytime they might think is necessary to protect themselves against terrorism.

Amir Taheri is an Iranian writer based in Europe.

 

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