Colin Powell's visit to Ankara yesterday provided a ripe opportunity to sell out the Kurds.
The Bush administration had already sold them out once when it struck a deal to allow Turkish troops into Iraqi Kurdistan in exchange for basing rights in Turkey. The sellout was mooted when the Turkish parliament rejected the deal. Subsequently, the Turks approved U.S. military overflights after quite a lot more diplomatic effort than should really have been necessary. (Even France is allowing overflights during the war.) Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan claims that during these negotiations, Powell sold out the Kurds yet again by agreeing to some kind of Turkish troop presence in Iraqi Kurdistan. If that's true, somebody on our side thought better of it and vetoed the Turkish troops. (Asked about Erdogan's claim, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said it wasn't true.) After that, the Turks signaled that if things remained stable on Turkey's southern border, and if the Kurds stayed out of Kirkuk (which the Kurds regard as their Jerusalem, but which bears stronger resemblance to West Texas), they would not send troops in. At this point, Chatterbox put the Kurd Sellout Watch on unofficial hiatus.
Powell's trip to the Turkish capital revived it. But Chatterbox is pleased to report that Powell didn't even try to sell out the Kurds on this go-round. The main business at hand was to secure Turkish approval to move through food, fuel, and medicine urgently needed in northern Iraq. Powell got it. Regarding the Kurdish situation, Powell said at a press conference in Ankara that the two countries were hashing out the details of a "coordination group" to monitor the Kurdish situation. There's little reason to expect that this will be more than a bureaucratic formality; neither the Turkish nor the Kurdish press seems particularly agitated by its existence. "We are not dying to enter Iraq," an unnamed Turkish official today told Hande Culpan of Agence France Presse. To further appease the United States, Turkey has deployed nearly every lobbyist in Washington, including former almost-House Speaker Bob Livingston and former Democratic Rep. Stephen Solarz. Chatterbox wonders how much of Bush's proposed $1 billion grant to Turkey will be left after these guys get paid.
The United States could still sell the Kurds out—indeed, it will likely have to sell the Kurds out—if the Kurds seize Kirkuk unilaterally. Barham Salih, prime minister of that half of Kurdistan controlled by the PUK party, today reaffirmed that they won't. "The PUK will not move against Kirkuk as Kurds," he told AFX News. "Should a decision be taken to move, it will be done as the Iraqi opposition and in tandem with the coalition." But even if they enter Kirkuk under U.S. command, can the Kurds be controlled? Reports by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker and Tim Judah in the New York Review of Books suggest that the Kurds are feeling frisky and that any resistance they meet from the Iraqi army will be weak. According to Judah, many Iraqi soldiers on the northern edge of Saddam-controlled territory regularly cross into Iraqi Kurdistan to beg for food. Patrick Cockburn reports in today's Independent that the Iraqi northern front has already started to collapse. To keep the Turks out, American troops must move quickly to seize Kirkuk. If the Kurds beat them to it, war could still break out between Turkey and the Kurds. Under those circumstances, it would not be a sellout for the United States to tell the Kurds, "Sorry, fellas, we aren't taking sides."