Iraq's Kurds see Turkish peacekeepers as war-mongers
9 September 2003
by Rory Mulholland
SULAIMANIYA (Iraq) / They're the same as the Baath party, they want to kill us,"
said fruit juice seller Taleb Said Ali.
It was a fairly typical reaction here in the Kurdish north to the prospect of
Turkish troops helping to tame post-Saddam Iraq.
While Kurds here battled Saddam Hussein's regime for decades, their ethnic kin
across the mountainous border with Turkey fought their own battle against the
Turkish army to preserve their language and culture.
Most Iraqi Kurds are thus appalled at the prospect of troops from that same army
now arriving to help the Americans rebuild and stabilise the war-shattered
One of the first public statements Iraq's new interim foreign minister, Hoshiar
Zebari, himself a Kurd, made after his appointment last week was that Turkish
troops were not welcome because they would bring with them their own political
That view was echoed here in Sulaimaniya, a prosperous town cradled by
sun-browned mountains that is the capital of one of the Kurdish provinces in
"The Turks are ambitious, they want to occupy our lands," said toy shop
assistant Hawser Ahmed. "They haven't liked us for hundreds of years. They want
to come in because of Kirkuk, where the oil is."
The Turkish government is currently mulling plans to send about 10,000 troops to
Iraq, at the request of the United States, which is seeking to ease the burden
on its overstretched military.
The Turkish soldiers would likely be given control of Al-Anbar, a province far
south of Kurdistan that stretches from near Baghdad right to the borders with
Syria and Jordan.
But to get their troops there they would have to establish a "corridor" through
Kurdish areas. This would be unacceptable to most Kurds.
"The only people who would welcome them anywhere in Iraq are the Turkmen
people," said Asos Hardi, editor of Hawlati weekly newspaper in Sulaimaniya.
Since the fall of Saddam in April, Iraq's minority Turkmen, who are linked
ethnically and culturally to the Turks and who live along the southern fringes
of Kurdistan, have feared a landgrab by the Kurds.
"The most dangerous thing they (the Turks) could do would be to give the Turkmen
money and guns," said Hardi. "There are already tensions in Kirkuk. If things
explode there the Turks would use this as an excuse to go into Kurdistan."
Iraq's four million Kurds lived in their autonomous region since the 1991 Gulf
war, protected from Saddam's Baathist regime by Western air patrols.
Ankara is worried that they are trying to carve out a homeland for themselves,
which might inspire Turkey's own millions of Kurds.
Yet few Kurds here said they were prepared to take up arms against Turkish
troops if they ever did arrive.
"It's a decision for the Governing Council. They will do what's best," said
Zebari last week, a sentiment echoed by many in Sulaimaniya who are grateful to
the US-led forces who finally toppled Saddam.
The US military in Iraq's Kurdistan play down the prospect of unrest if Turkish
troops come to help them crush suspected Saddam loyalists or other anti-
"If they're just transiting through I don't see any problem," said Lieutenant
Colonel Harry Schute, commander of US forces in the Kurdish areas.
"There are already Turkish soldiers in the region. There are between 1,500 and
1,900 in Dohuk, so they're not a stranger to this area."
The Turkish forces he was referring to are here to keep an eye on a
several-thousand-strong force of Kurdish rebels from Turkey who have holed up in
Iraq's mountainous north.
These rebels, formerly the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) but now known as KADEK,
recently ended a ceasefire that had halted a campaign that left tens of
thousands dead in Turkey. But they have not resumed hostilities.
Observers say Ankara, a key NATO ally and the alliance's only mostly Muslim
member, is angling for a promise from Washington that it will deal with these
rebels before Turkish troops are commmitted to Iraq.