June 08, 2007

No Invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan

By Michael J. Totten

I’ve been away from the blog for two days because my friend Judith Weiss came to visit from New York for two days and I took on a road trip around Oregon to show her some scenery. Just as we were leaving the city, Debka reported that 50,000 Turkish soldiers invaded Iraqi Kurdistan.

We found no news on the radio, as if nothing had happened. We had no access to the Internet or international newspapers. I was unable to write about it or even find out what was going on.

It was probably for the best. Sometimes it’s better to wait a day or two before responding to headlines.

My sources in Iraqi Kurdistan told me there has been no Turkish invasion. The Turkish government, the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and the United States government all agree that there has been no Turkish invasion.

Why Debka hasn’t yet been completely discredited as an inadvertent spoof “news” site from an alternate universe is beyond me.

Here’s what’s actually happening: The Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (or PKK) from Eastern Turkey has dug into a remote mountainous area just inside Iraq which they use as a staging ground to launch terrorist and guerilla attacks inside Turkey. The Turkish military is shelling the area from their side of the border and may have chased PKK elements across the border in hot pursuit before returning to Turkey immediately.

The KRG says their Peshmerga aren’t able to flush the PKK out of their positions in the mountains because the area is too remote and rugged for a ground force to penetrate. This is the same location where the Peshmerga successfully hid from Saddam Hussein for decades when they waged their own guerilla war against the Baghdad regime.

It’s possible that the Peshmerga are insufficiently motivated to challenge the PKK – which is not officially supported in any way by the KRG – and that Turkey’s military build-up on the border is an attempt to pressure them to do what needs to be done.

I don’t know what KRG officials secretly believe in their hearts about the PKK. None have ever expressed even the vaguest sympathy to me for the PKK even off the record. At the same time, though, there is no love lost between Iraqi Kurds and the Turks. In any case, the Kurds of Iraq never used PKK-style tactics against Arab Iraqi civilians even when they faced genocide from Saddam’s regime. So I am not going to accuse the Kurdistan Regional Government of secretly supporting the PKK. I can’t prove that the KRG doesn’t support them, and I’m not trying to prove it. But I haven’t seen any evidence that the KRG does, and there is some evidence that they do not.

Free advice for the United States government: Help the Kurds of Iraq eject the PKK from the mountains before Turkey does to Iraqi Kurdistan what Israel did to Lebanon. The Turkish government sees this problem through the lens of last year’s war in July, and we don’t need to see that movie again.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 8, 2007 02:32 PM

Even if things have transpired in the best possible way here (no Turkish invasion, no support of any kind for the PKK or of the independence movement within Turkey), I see very little chance in the future that Turkey will in any way tolerate a Kurdish homeland in Iraq. At the very least, they will do everything in their power to put pressure on the nation in order to undermine it. Given their size and location, there's a pretty good chance they will succeed.

Or am I missing something?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 8, 2007 03:28 PM


If the US withdraws its forces to Kurdistan instead of the US (or Okinawa or some other far-off location), Kurdistan could be saved.

This is what I prefer. A Korean War style exit from Iraq instead of a Vietnam War style exit from Iraq. Save the part that is salvageable, declare partial victory, and prevent another all but inevitable war later on.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 8, 2007 03:34 PM

If the US withdraws its forces to Kurdistan instead of the US (or Okinawa or some other far-off location), Kurdistan could be saved.

If that happened, I can't think why there would not be an immediate increase in conflict in Kurdistan, and a chilling of relations with Turkey. And how long would the US forces need to stay in Kurdistan? Isn't that a large investment for very little in the way of a foreign policy return?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 8, 2007 03:47 PM


I'm writing a very long essay for a quarterly magazine making my case for this. Let me work on that instead of addressing it here. It's too complicated to make a solid case in a comments section, and my time on this subject is better spent there than here for right now.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 8, 2007 03:58 PM

Let me work on that instead of addressing it here.

Sure, looking forward to it.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 8, 2007 04:06 PM

Try to relate it to Paris Hilton in some way; your readership will skyrocket.

Posted by: Keith at June 8, 2007 04:15 PM

Why Debka hasn’t yet been completely discredited as an inadvertent spoof “news” site from an alternate universe is beyond me.

Because they occasionally get it right.

Not nearly often enough to be taken seriously on their own, but if something's on Debka, it's worth looking around to see if there is confirmation via other sources.

Posted by: rosignol at June 8, 2007 04:27 PM

1st post from a long time reader.

I'm also looking forward to reading your article MJT. I do not, however, think it's a stupendously complicated case to make: Kurdistan sits at the nexus of the Northern Middle East. It has an exceedingly pro American, and generally pro western government, and from your very appreciated reports, general population, save for a number of Islamists and Marxists. On that basis alone (geo-strategic location, and pro US polity) the US should be there (as opposed to subsidizing local Western European, and a few other, economies with US bases).

What's really missing is some very needy US shuttle diplomacy to get the Iraqi Kurds and Turks to work out a serious agreement, one that will no doubt benefit both people even in the short term. This is more important, IMHO, than anything else the US is doing in Iraq.

Posted by: hezi at June 8, 2007 04:29 PM

Keith, funny comment.

As to the U.S. staying in Kurdistan, there has been a fair amount of talk about this being a plan of ours, but who knows.... I hope that we do stay there.

No way (I know, famous last words) that Turkey will attack U.S. forces.

Posted by: Ron Snyder at June 8, 2007 05:00 PM


While I share your view that the Turks won't be happy with an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq, I have to wonder what the Turks will get out of scuttling such a scenario. In other words, so the Turks manage to somehow pull the plug on an Iraqi Kurdistan, but then what? Who will rule the area, a Turkish occupation force? I doubt that, and I doubt that would benefit Turkey. Further, I don't see the Arabs in the south extending control of IK either, for a number of reasons.

I think an IK is inevitable, and the Turks would do well to cooperate with it, as the Kurds in IK would do well to cooperate with the Turks, which means suppressing the PKK inside IK.


Posted by: Zak at June 8, 2007 06:13 PM

Keith, it turns out Paris Hilton does have a connection to northern Iraq:

Hilton to inaugurate new Erbril hotel
A.P. staff
By Sami Barazani

ERBIL, NORTHERN IRAQ— Despite legal woes back home, Paris Hilton—the infamous L.A. socialite and reality TV star—is slated to attend ceremonies next month in Erbil for the grand opening of the Hilton Erbil.

“I, like, will totally do whatever I can to help the Kurdishes,” said Hilton. “They are like, so oppressed it’s totally crazy. I feel totally sorry for them.”

Hilton became interested in the Kurdish cause after dating a Kurdish-American some years ago.

“Birzo was, like, so hot,” recounted Hilton. “And he was a totally good dresser, too.”

Security for Hilton’s visit is expected to be tight, despite the fact that she has a devoted following among young Kurds in northern Iraq.

“I used care about the future of the Kurdish people, especially in northern Iraq,” said Azma Talabani, a 21-year old former political science major. “But now I care more about fashion and being social ever since I learned about Paris. She is so beautiful. I am switching my major to fashion, and I am working on my pouting, vacuous facial expressions- just like Paris.”

But not everybody was happy about Hilton’s imminent arrival. A shadowy organization called Harakat al-Ritchie vowed to kill Hilton if she steps foot in northern Iraq.

“We do not accept this renewed friendship between Paris and Nichole,” said a spokesperson for the group. “Nichole harmed Paris’ honor—and we swear we will blacken the face of Paris and shake the ground beneath her feet!”

Posted by: Zak at June 8, 2007 06:40 PM

Kurdistan is inconvenient for Turkey. That's just too bad, though. Greece is also inconvenient for them.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 8, 2007 07:42 PM

Go Greece lightening.

I had spinach pie for dinner!

Posted by: Zak at June 8, 2007 07:56 PM

Debka basically reported on what the Turkish news agency reported. I visited the Turkish site to verify. The headline was still there but the body of the article was already pulled. I think the Turks have set this as a trial balloon to see what they could get away with. Good to know that the Americans made it very clear to them that it wont be much.

Posted by: redaktor at June 8, 2007 08:38 PM

Michael & DPU,

I think Zak is on to something--the key thing the Turks want is respect for borders--so, the Kurds in Iraq need to keep playing it the way they have--i.e., de facto independence, but still lip service to de jure Iraq-as-one-nation.

As long as the Kurds in Iraq don't formally threaten the Turkish nation, I think things can be worked out behind the scenes (I would agree that it's not obvious that a de jure Iraqi-Kurd state should "threaten" the Turks, but that is the way they read it, for better or worse--that is something they might fight over, and I don't know, given the paucity of reliable friends in the region, we can afford to piss them off that badly, even if they're over-reacting).

I don't personally know the Kurds, but this seems to be at least an informal Turk position--and one I suspect goes all the way up in Ankara.

Keep up the good work, Michael--we love you!

Posted by: Rob at June 8, 2007 11:27 PM

I am so dumb. My blog is lame and retarded. I write like a 10th grade journalism student. Except you can't really consider what I write "journalism". They are really stories. Stories that I pull mostly from my ass.

I love to suck myself off at night because of how RAD I am.

Visit my blog:


Posted by: Abraham at June 9, 2007 01:39 AM

WRT Debka, there is a correlation between how close the news they are talking about is to Israel, and how correct they are. Incidents in the Palestinian Authority? Typically correct. Lebanon? Often right, and more so if it is related to Israeli security.

Any further away than that, and you have to double- or triple-check them.

Posted by: MattW at June 9, 2007 03:04 AM


The point is that DEBKA is consistently unreliable. The argument that a "news" source has value because it sometimes gets it right is asinine.

I, too, can tell everyone what I think might be happening and state it as fact. Occasionally I'll get it right, especially when it's related to a place I'm familiar with.

Posted by: Edgar at June 9, 2007 04:57 AM

I assume that's aimed at me, Edgar. I never said Debka has 'value', nor did I call it a 'news source'.

Speaking for myself, I only use it for fast news on Israel and the area. They usually report things (bombings, arrests, casualty figures) quicker than MSM. Beyond that, any gaps Debka fills 'where the media stops' are - as you say - probably guess work, or unreliable.

Posted by: MattW at June 9, 2007 06:10 AM

I, too, can tell everyone what I think might be happening and state it as fact.

If you think that's what Debka does, then it's obvious that you have a serious reading comprehension problem.

Posted by: redaktor at June 9, 2007 07:51 AM

The US should recognize that the Turkish Empire needs to end -- the Kurds deserve to vote on whether they should stay with the Turks or split.

The Kurds should look at the successful Czech Slovak split (both with excellent hockey teams) and both now in the EU. The Kurds need to end their violence for a split, and look at Martin Luther King's non-violence, even accepting an intermediate autonomy.

The US should certainly be rewarding the Kurds with more visits, with US military bases-if the Kurds want it, whether the Turks want it or not.

The Turks have been an unreliable ally, by their own choice.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at June 9, 2007 08:24 AM

Off Topic:

Micheal: Can you set up a post regarding the Israeli prime minister's willingness to give back the Golan heights as part of the peace process.

Posted by: David at June 9, 2007 09:34 AM

I noticed that the word Cyprus is missing in the whole blog. If it is OK to keep a buffer state in North Cyprus why not in North Iraq. More ! if it is OK for Iran to have in South Lebanon a real big militaty base + Medium missiles & Radar & Early warning systems included + Concrete bunkers and such + well paid local militia + what is called in the USA "civilian aid" probably more than billion $ Why should not the USA have the same on the border of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and not far from the Russian border and all this central asian oil (look at google earth) If Russia did not like these elctronics gadgets in Poland and such think what they will think about this Kurdish state. By the way such Kurdish state was a long cherished dream of Israel. At least one Israeli minister of defence was Kurdish, but then during last war the Israeli President, The chief of Sta. and a previous COS acting as a minister in the Israeli Government were Iranian. What a nice kettle of fish.

Posted by: hazbani at June 9, 2007 10:53 AM

This war has nothing to do with the PKK. if they want to crush the PKK they could have done that years ago. I have heard rumours that some of the elements in PKK are turkish secret services. PKK is a tool used by turkey to have exuses to corss the border any time they like. PKK is nothing but trouble maker for us in iraqi kurdistan, sometimes i think they might all be turkish secret services because what they are doing in iraqi kurdistan is only harming us, not benefital atall.

The purpose of this war is to hit iraqi kurdistan so hard that it will never be able to stand on its feet, and never be able to be independent. the plan is to destroy all the military power, resources that we have along with destroying the economy. watch out for turkish jets bombing shopping centres and trading buildings accusing it of being used by the so called PKK, i call them MIT (turkish secret services) well most of them atleast.

This is the last desperate attempt by turkey to stand in the way of an indendent kurdish state rising from iraqi kurdistan. Not sure how this is going to end up but I don't think an independent state is stopable any longer.

just like our famous kurdish writer said in his book called "birth of a nation" kurdistan is about to be born. when you opress a nation so much, is like a pregnent woman in pain when she is about to have a babe. not sure what the word is called. anyway nice posts michael.

Posted by: Shvan at June 9, 2007 12:23 PM

The comparison between the PKK in Kurdistan and Hizbullah in Lebanon is not fair. The PKK are in an extremely remote area, getting no support whatsoever from Kurds, are not mixed in with the Kurdish population, an attack on the PKK would go unnoticed by the rest of Kurdishtan etc. etc.

Posted by: Yafawi at June 9, 2007 01:05 PM


I think you're right in saying that the Turkish government "views this through the lens of last year's war in July." There are fears about the erosion of the Turkish army's deterrence, for example, as well as the threats to its civilian centers. But it seems that there are also quite a few voices who are wary of launching a more extensive cross-border operation precisely because they fear the sort of outcome that we saw in Lebanon (a propaganda victory for the PKK).

Much of the anger among ordinary Turks as well as people in the security sector today seems to be directed at the U.S. - for its alleged inaction vis-a-vis the PKK, and also for its sponsorship of Kurdish autonomy in Iraq. I was disturbed by the extent of this resentment, even in the traditionally pro-American secular elite.

Posted by: Amos at June 9, 2007 01:30 PM


you should make your website so that if I want to send somebody a link this post they just get this particular post without having to scroll down the whole blog looking for it. Most blogs do it like that, like LGF for instance.

Posted by: Carlos at June 9, 2007 09:42 PM


Click "Permalink" at the bottom of the post you want to link to and you will get a url like this one:


Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 10, 2007 12:19 AM

Hmm, since we're making requests, I have one. Nothing major. But since there are frequently long posts/articles on this site, it would be nice to have a list of URLs at the top of the page of the last six or so posts. That would mean we wouldn't have to scroll such a long way.

Posted by: MattW at June 10, 2007 01:24 AM

I also have to wonder about this: to what extent is the Turkish military's saber-rattling over Kurdistan an attempt to maintain their influence in Turkish politics? In short, a matter of domestic politics, rather than military threat. After all, if they can get a foreign war going, the Turkish public may cut them more slack in their efforts to thwart the political process which is weakening their influence.

Posted by: wj at June 10, 2007 10:57 AM

Tom Grey,

Could you imagine that "independent Turkish Kurdistan" could be a major threat to IK? Totalitarian PKK with similar implications as brotherly Syria in Lebanon...going after the wealth of IK.

By the way: splitting of Czechoslovakia was 100% peaceful but very undemocratic: We hardly new something of the new guys - "politicians". And no referendum took place. So we do not know until today whether we wanted it or not. Very interesting: the West did not comment at all on this absolute breach in democracy rules.
Strange and telling. Any explanation?

Cf. strong words and actions in EU after having elected half-nazi Haider as Austrian leader - democratically...

Posted by: Czechmade at June 10, 2007 01:34 PM

And as usual, nobody cares what Kurds want!!!

MJT is clearly pro KRG (which does not mean pro Kurdish) and most of the commentators are pro US-Israel.( me too!)

As a Kurdish person, I see a totally different problem. Kurdish people want self determination.
Kurds are Kurds, not Iraqis, Iranian,.... They may carry different passports or IDs, but they feel closer to their Kurdish political rivals than non-kurdish allies ( Just like Israelies!)

There is not much difference between Iraqi, Iranian, Turkish or Syrian non-kurds(and their elected, prefered or imposed goverments), they hate the idea of Kurdistan, regardless of the extent, texture of government, benefits to them, etc...

Therefore even if KRG does not like PKK or exiled Kurds from the east( Iran), they could (and would) not eliminate them. PKK is not the only kurdish party in Turkey, although turkish gvt and army wish so. But turkey does not tolerate ANY kurdish activism, specifically the peacefull ones. Same is true for Iran and Syria.

The best acheivable model of what Kurds want (their state)is a state like Israel. This is not possible without support from US.

And US does not want to risk long time allies (Turkey with no benefits for US!) and beneficial rivals (Iran and Syria which help US way more than harm US) for the idea of a future state and will of a few(30 to 40) milion Kurds.
... and history will be repeated again and again until....

Posted by: Rashid at June 11, 2007 11:21 AM


could we think of PKK as a baby of USSR, Syria, Turkey? PKK should disappear, it will be always a welcome pretext to crush Kurds. Even Iraqi Kurds cannot be sure of their future investments in turkish Kurdistan. Which should be a natural course.

Do you see any changes in the turkish attitudes towards their Kurdish citizens?

Posted by: Czechmade at June 12, 2007 05:28 AM


With the recent changes in Turkish constitution regarding voting and candidacy, the only fractions that could send Kurds to parliament, are pro-islamic parties.

Perhaps you have heard the recent military seige on three Kurdish border provinces (for three months atleast)...

Both government and army are tightening their hands around Kurds neck,... Guess the rest of the story!

Posted by: Rashid at June 12, 2007 10:35 AM

And US does not want to risk long time allies (Turkey with no benefits for US!) and beneficial rivals (Iran and Syria which help US way more than harm US)

Rashid, can you give us some examples of how Iran and Syria help the US?

Posted by: mary at June 12, 2007 12:17 PM


If you follow political (and economical) gear changes in US and Iran, you will see the dance partners.

Any shift in US internal politics COINCIDES with shifts in Iranian foriegn policy, also changes in US foreign policy is followed by changes in Iranian internal change.

Recent war against terrorism (if such a thing is possible! war and terrorism are in different spaces) started to increase the energy prices and boost this sector of US economy, Iran has played to the tune and did its share by supprting some Iraqi sects and disturbing oil production in the region.

Also both Iran and Syria gave US more excuses to continue this WAR by supporting terrorism.

Whenever US is short on excuses, Iranian leaders bring more fuel, otherwise they are silent.

At the same time US supports these rivals in a different way. US normally supports the most irrelevant opposition fractions of these regimes.
and US mentions military solutions in these cases.
Which in turn gives excuses to these regimes to strenghten themselves internally by getting rid of any genuine opposition.
Also US-Iraq experience creates fear of such a future among people in Iran and Syria, which is a direct boost to the regimes.

In turn Iran gives breaks to US whenever US needs it (Afghanistan, Southern Iraq).

Two partners are needed for a good dance!

Posted by: Rashid at June 14, 2007 10:30 AM

Turkey will not attack Iraq for fear of PKK, a free Kurdistan or marxism. Turkey will attack Iraq to create inner peace: to consolidate Turkey.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed this clearly in a speach last week.

Posted by: Lotte at June 15, 2007 08:29 PM

Do they allow adult personal ads in this country? Also, how are you guys doing today.

Posted by: stacy at June 21, 2007 05:21 AM
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