What to do with the Kurds in northern Iraq?

By Scott Tibbs, October 18, 2006

Yet another reason why Congress should not pass a resolution condemning the atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians 92 years ago: Turkey is considering sending troops into northern Iraq to attack Kurdish rebels who have made repeated incursions into Turkish territory and killed Turkish soldiers.

This is not a new problem. Both Iran and Turkey were having problems with Kurdish guerrillas ten years ago, and Turkey sent troops into Iraqi territory to retaliate after Kurdish attacks on Turkish troops. The United States made the Kurdish area of northern Iraq for all intents and purposes autonomous from Saddam Hussein's regime after the 1991 Gulf War, while not recognizing Kurdistan as an independent country. Feeling empowered, Kurdish guerrillas have attacked both Turkey and Iran.

The United States is pleading with Turkey to seek a diplomatic solution rather than send in troops and destabilize an already volatile situation in Iraq. The Bush Administration's efforts to prevent this from happening has not been helped by Congress sticking a finger in Turkey's eye by advancing the resolution condemning the atrocities against Armenians. Imagine how this looks to Turkey: our Congress is about to condemn an atrocity that took place nearly a century ago while simultaneously telling Turkey not to defend itself against an act of war.

The fact that we are in Iraq at all undermines our credibility in asking Turkey to seek a diplomatic solution. Whether our invasion of Iraq was justified or not, the fact is that we were not attacked by Iraq. Turkey, on the other hand, has been attacked by Kurdish guerrillas. If we're going to ask Turkey to not retaliate while we occupy a country we attacked preemptively, we are going to have to come up with a better justification than "do as we say, not as we do."

The Kurdish conflict is something we should have dealt with in the 1990's. Unfortunately, President Clinton missed an opportunity to seek a permanent solution during his eight years in office. To be fair, though, Clinton inherited the situation from President George H. W. Bush, who did not resolve it in the second half of his term. It seems that President George W. Bush did not plan for how do deal with a four-way conflict between Iran, Iraq, Turkey and the Kurds before we went into Iraq in 2003. Ultimately, though, President Clinton was in the best position to deal with it and failed to do so.

If our military operation in Iraq is going to be successful in the long run, we are going to have to find some way to resolve the Kurdish conflict and Kurdish desire for their own nation-state. Unfortunately, this is likely to be put on the back burner as the 2008 Presidential election picks up steam, but 2008 does give both parties an opportunity to discuss the issue and attempt to convince the American people that their candidate has the best answer.