Turkey invades Iraq; the world shrugs

MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images In October, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sabre-rattling about sending Turkish troops across the Iraqi border to attack Kurdish P.K.K. rebels, many feared that such an incursion would provoke a major regional conflagration of some sort. Writing for ForeignPolicy.com in July, Amb. Morton Abramowitz said that the United States must ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
596239_080228_turkey2.jpg
596239_080228_turkey2.jpg

MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images

In October, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sabre-rattling about sending Turkish troops across the Iraqi border to attack Kurdish P.K.K. rebels, many feared that such an incursion would provoke a major regional conflagration of some sort. Writing for ForeignPolicy.com in July, Amb. Morton Abramowitz said that the United States must act quickly to diffuse a situation "that threatens to explode into violence, destabilize northern Iraq, and further embitter relations between the United States and Turkey."

Well, Turkish troops have now been operating in Iraq for a week and it seems as if said destabilization has yet to occur. The Iraqi government has publicly condemned the operation and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has urged the Turks to keep it as short as possible. Judging from the statement of Erdogan's senior foreign policy adviser in Baghdad yesterday, though, the Turks seem in no particular hurry to leave.

MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images

In October, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sabre-rattling about sending Turkish troops across the Iraqi border to attack Kurdish P.K.K. rebels, many feared that such an incursion would provoke a major regional conflagration of some sort. Writing for ForeignPolicy.com in July, Amb. Morton Abramowitz said that the United States must act quickly to diffuse a situation “that threatens to explode into violence, destabilize northern Iraq, and further embitter relations between the United States and Turkey.”

Well, Turkish troops have now been operating in Iraq for a week and it seems as if said destabilization has yet to occur. The Iraqi government has publicly condemned the operation and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has urged the Turks to keep it as short as possible. Judging from the statement of Erdogan’s senior foreign policy adviser in Baghdad yesterday, though, the Turks seem in no particular hurry to leave.

I don’t mean to appear indifferent to the violence in Kurdistan, which has claimed hundreds of lives already, but if Iraq is descending (faster) into chaos as a result of the Turkish invasion, then the media is not covering it. It’s possible that a major confrontation is brewing and we’re all just ignoring it out of Iraq fatigue, but as the Guardian reports today, according to an anonymous Turkish government source, the Turks may actually have the secret consent of Iraq’s president and prime minister to launch the invasion.

I spoke today with Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, Nabi Sensoy, who acknowledged that members of his government had been in contact with their Iraqi counterparts prior to the invasion:

What I know is that the Turkish government and the president, before the operation got started, got in touch with the Iraqi authorities and also the U.S. administration. I know that our president called President Talabani and our prime minister called Prime Minister Maliki. So they were informed about our intentions.

Sensoy described the P.K.K. as “by far the deadliest terrorist organization in the world” and said that Turkey’s military was doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties and avoid destabilizing Iraq. In fact, he believes the operation will be beneficial to the Iraqis in the long run:

Some people fear that this will upset the so-called relative stability in the North. What is relative stability for some is a source of instability for Turkey… This will not hurt stability in this region. In fact, if we are successful, this will eliminate the threat of the P.K.K. and be helpful to the stability of Iraq. That’s what we’re trying to do in Iraq. Our main goal is to preserve the independence, territorial integrity, and unity of that country.

So far, at least, Turkey’s ground operation does seem limited in scale. And for all its bluster, Baghdad will probably tolerate it because, frankly, there’s not a whole lot they can do in response. It would still be unwise, however, for the Turks to overstay their welcome too long. Major civilian casualties could provoke Kurdish unrest and might change the equation significantly. Turkey’s military should know from the U.S. example that the longer its operation in Iraq lasts, the more likely it is that the most dire predictions will come true.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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