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Is a new Regional Power slowly taking over in the Middle East?

The trouble with being an oil executive is when you get into politics you can’t lose the habit of digging holes for yourself. Really big ones that get bigger and bigger. Look at the Bush Administration. Stuffed full of oil industry magnates and lackeys.

Naturally, they have always had a big interest in Iraq. But the “Invade for Oil Profits” theory has been well documented over the years. I’m not talking about that right now, but the current trouble that has a vital strategic importance for the whole region, particularly since the Americans are overstretched and under achieving in that quagmire.

Since the invasion the US has had just one natural ally within Iraq itself – the Kurds. And now they are pulling the rug from under the feet of the one stable group in Iraq, their only natural allies within that country. Although the Kurds are Muslim, they are not Arab, and have a different outlook on life to the troublemakers in the south and west. They have their own identity. But they don’t have their own country.

For years part of the Ottoman Empire, after World War I the Kurds were let down badly by the West:

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Allies agreed and planned to create several countries within its former boundaries. Originally Kurdistan, along with Armenia, was to be one of them, according to the never-ratified Treaty of Sèvres. However, the reconquest of these areas by Kemal Atatürk and other pressing issues caused the Allies to accept the renegotiated Treaty of Lausanne, accepting the border of the modern Republic of Turkey and leaving the Kurds without a self-ruled region. Other Kurdish areas were assigned to the new British and French mandated states of Iraq and Syria under both treaties.

So, what could have been a functioning and indepedent Kurdistan was split up so that the “lines on the map” could save face for the French and the British, but mostly to accommodate the rampant Turks. Just look at the straight lines on the maps of of Syria and Iraq – a sure sign of arbitrarily imposed boundaries if ever there was one.

The manufactured countries of Syria and Iraq, as well as modern Turkey and Iran, were all given a slice of Kurdistan, the land which had never been but nearly was and which continues to exist in the minds of its people. If it wasn’t for the Turks, they would indeed have their own fully sanctioned and legal country right now, and not be labelled as “terrorists” by Condy Rice.

Map of the Kurdish inhabited areas

Such dreams and feelings of injustices seldom go away and are always rather difficult to deal with. The Turks decided to oppress the minorities within their new, expanded borders. You have probably heard about the Turkish genocide against the Armenians in which over a million Armenians died. They weren’t the only ones badly treated as the Pontic Greeks and Kurds suffered too.

You could say that the old military governments of Turkey treated few of its citizens well, as anyone who has seen the shocking but slightly inaccurate Midnight Express, a cult movie from the 1970s, will tell you. But if you were from a minority group who did not accept Turkish hegemony and integration you were treated rather more harshly than the norm. Things have got a lot better since then, though, especially with Turkey’s attempts to join the EU which insisted on many changes to the Turkish judicial system, and many Western leaning economic reforms.

However, in the Kurdish areas of Turkey, people still want their freedom, and haven’t stopped fighting for it ever since. Against the odds.

For a start, the political system is geared against minorities. Although Turkey has a system of non-secular Parliamentary Democracy, no party with less than 10% of votes gets any representation in Parliament. Not only that, but if your party calls for independence from Turkey, that Party is banned from holding any power. So, if you are a member of a minority with fewer votes possible than this, and with views on separatism (such as the Scottish National Party in the UK) your views can always be ignored.

The main Kurdish force is the PKK, whose leader was imprisoned some years ago for a life term. But still the Kurds resisted moves to force them to give up their culture, language and customs. The most violent protestors attack the Turkish Army and Police in their “homeland” as they see it, and since their lands have been cut up they can cross the “UN Approved” borders to escape pursuit from their attackers. They are listed as terrorists by the US, and the EU because of the methods they use.

In a system in which political protest is quashed, sometimes through violent means, how can groups of individuals then express their political desires for autonomy? It’s rather difficult – particularly since Turkey is so geo-politically important to NATO.

Unfortunately, you will always get those who take up arms against those they see as their oppressors, misguided though this may be. I don’t think violence ever solves any of these issues, it may make people feel temporarily as though they have more control, but it’s all illusion. Violence – from both sides – just entrenches positions, hardens people’s resolve, and usually makes things worse. It is certainly one of the best recruiting sergeants for extremists.

When the world got together in 1990 to repel Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait, part of the peace deal was that there would be a “no fly zone” over the South and over the North, and the Kurds naturally took advantage of the lack of aerial harassment to create a “state within a state” in the Kurdish areas of Northern Iraq. Democracy arrived, and flourished. Peace reigned in this area, and even today it is still one of the most peaceable parts of Iraq. This suggests all the Kurds want is to live peacefully alone in their own state within their own culture.

Naturally, they have been big backers of the US ever since the second Gulf War broke out. After the initial post invasion plans (what plans?) went awry, the Kurds continued to strongly support the US. By the way, according to the BBC the main source of info on Iraq that was used by the US Defence department was – err, the Lonely Planet travel guidebook.

But now, with the US talking of leaving the area, the Turks are muscling in on the Kurds again and want to be allowed to also invade Northern Iraq to pursue groups they see as hostile to their aims of achieving a Turkish monocultural state.

This is a tricky one for the US because Turkey, as it is now formed, is a vital strategic partner within NATO. For a long time a vital base for US Middle East air power such as that at Incirlik, the US uses Turkey to launch missions all over the Middle East, and to act as a limit to Soviet Russian southward expansion.

Soviet focussed Condy Rice, always someone to me who knows a lot but usually it seems not about the right thing, seems to see Turkey as more important than the Kurds and their democracy. At least, the Iraqi puppet government of Shi’ite Arab Nouri Maliki is doing what the US wants and has said Iraq ‘will arrest Kurdish rebels’

This is rather ironic, since “there but for the grace of God goes he.” According to Wikipedia, when in exile in Syria from Saddam’s Iraq Maliki headed the Islamic Dawa Party’s Jihad Office, a branch responsible for directing activists and guerrillas fighting Saddam Hussein’s regime from outside Iraq. He who had once been a “terrorist”, is now a hero, while those who were once heroes are being labelled terrorists. But then, labels are so easy to use and misuse, aren’t they, Condy?

Once again, America gives up its allies to political expediency. It was a tough call, but somehow I can’t help feeling that an opportunity has been lost here for some new creative solution to be brought in. Instead, the US has fallen back on strategies designed for a Soviet expansionist world that have been out of date for decades, strategies that have their roots in 19th Century colonial policy.

But hold on a minute. Is there something even darker unfolding here? Perhaps a re-expansion of the old Turkish Empire? The BBC reports that Turkey has “massed up to 100,000 troops on its southern border for a possible offensive to eliminate Kurdish rebel bases in Iraq.” That’s rather a lot of troops to chase just a few cross border rebels, isn’t it?

With US occupation soon to end, the US is getting desperate. Mostly to not appearing to have lost (which they have through no fault other than Rumsfeld’s naivety and lack of strategic vision) but also desperate to prevent the vacuum being filled with any other regional power – such as represented by either the Syrians or the Iranians. Or worse, Islamic fundamentalists. George Bush certainly does not want his legacy to be that of invading a country that did not have Al Qaeda within it to begin with, but which certainly had it when he left. Too late, George.

So, allow the Turks to make cross border raids on “terrorists” in the Kurdish areas; later, allow them to set up “temporary” bases within Kurdish Iraq; replace the US’s 100,000 plus US troops in Iraq with the 100,000 plus Turkish troops and you kill a number of birds with one stone. No vacuum is created, so no unpalatable force is given access.

The Turks can be kept “on-side” allowing the US to keep its airbases operating. The iraqi Shias of Maliki and Co will have their main opposition within the country weakened through Turkish pressure so will gain more power overall. And the US can be seen to be withdrawing from Iraq without creating one unholy mess.

Except there will still be one. If that is the strategy, it’s no more than a band aid solution. And its political consequences will be far longer reaching than George Bush and his Administration is willing, or perhaps able, to think.

The way battles are fought these days, at least from a propaganda point of view, reminds me of that old saying “Give a dog a bad name and you might as well hang him”. The bad word today is “Terrorist”. The good word is “Rebel”. If you ever hear of someone using the “T” word, take it as a warning sign to do your own research: on some level you are probably being taken advantage of, even lied to.

After all, an argument always has two sides. Sometimes, they’re both right.


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