The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The U.S., Turkey and the Kurds in northern Iraq

Mar 3, 2003

On March 1, Turkey's parliament rejected a law which would have allowed the U.S. to station troops in that country in order to invade Iraq from the north. This vote comes somewhat as a surprise since the leaders of Turkey's ruling party, the AKP, which has a commanding majority in the parliament, had urged their deputies to pass this measure. Only a few days before, the AKP leaders had made an agreement with the Bush administration about the deployment of 62,000 U.S. troops in Turkey.

The AKP deputies, however, were caught between a rock and a hard place. According to polls, as many as 95%, that is, the entire Turkish population almost without exception, opposes a war on Iraq. Even as the vote was being taken, over 50,000 protesters staged a spirited anti-war rally in front of the parliament. Allowing the U.S. to attack Iraq from Turkey would have totally discredited the AKP, which came to power only last November. So about 100 of the party's deputies joined opposition deputies in a "no" vote, defeating the measure.

Does this vote mean that Turkey will not be involved in a U.S.-led war against Iraq? Of course not. U.S. warplanes have already been using bases in Turkey to launch bombing raids in Iraq for the past 12 years. And Turkey itself has had hundreds of troops inside northern Iraq for some time. In fact, the Turkish government was getting ready to use a U.S. war on Iraq as a cover to send 60,000 to 80,000 troops up to 140 or 170 miles into Iraq. Turkey's excuse for such an action is to prevent a flood of Kurdish refugees from entering into Turkey, but its real goal is to control the Kurds in northern Iraq, preventing an outbreak which could encourage the Kurds inside of Turkey to do the same thing. Once the war starts, the Turkish government is likely to put such plans in action.

There are nearly 15 million Kurds who live in Turkey, and another 15 million Kurds who live in Iraq, Iran and Syria, making up the largest ethnic group in the Middle East without their own nation state. The Turkish government has long carried out repression against Kurds. After a Kurdish rebellion in the 1920s, the Turkish government abolished the word Kurd from school books, and the use of the Kurdish language was made illegal. The Kurdish provinces of Turkey's southeast were put under military occupation. When a Kurdish group began guerrilla warfare there in the 1980s, the Turkish military bombed villages and expelled the population. Some 30,000 people were killed and millions were uprooted. All this time Turkey was a member of NATO, the alliance of supposedly democratic countries. And the U.S. fully backed Turkey in this oppression.

In fact the U.S. has a long history of sanctioning the oppression of Kurds by both Turkey and Iraq. When Saddam Hussein used poison gas against the Kurds of Halabja in 1988 and killed 5,000 Kurds, the first Bush government maintained friendly relations with the Iraqi government. After the Gulf War of 1991, the U.S. stood by when Saddam Hussein repressed a Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq. It was not until after Hussein had done this that the U.S. put limits on Hussein.

So, of course, the U.S. is ready to accept Turkey putting down these very same Kurds in northern Iraq again – in the name of maintaining "order" in the area.

But at the same time that the U.S. agrees with the Turkish government's plans to send its own troops into the Kurdish area of Iraq, it also places certain limits. The U.S. has drawn a line beyond which the Turkish army can't go: it can't touch the two important oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. They are reserved for U.S. control – and for U.S. oil companies.

The U.S. government prattles on about using the war to introduce democracy to Iraq. But in northern Iraq the U.S. is already planning on maintaining order, and that means above all the continued oppression of the Kurdish people, depriving them of the most elemental right to run their own affairs.