Turkey's troubling threat

Saturday, October 20
The long-standing enmity between Turkey and the Kurds of bordering northern Iraq is a conflagration waiting to happen, and the Turkish parliament's authorization of cross-border incursions to root out Kurdish rebels from their mountain bases may ignite it. The United States has little pull with Ankara, but the European Union, which Turkey desperately wants to join, does, and the member nations should use it to restrain the government from actions that could be disastrous.

Among the many after-effects of America's toppling of Saddam Hussein was the freeing of the Kurds from Mr. Hussein's tyranny. The Kurds have largely steered clear of the Sunni-Shiite civil war tearing apart the country, and as they slowly carve out an autonomous region on the Turkish border, Ankara worries that Kurds in Turkey will demand similar independence. Turkey accuses Iraqi Kurds of crossing the border to assist restive members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party in their periodic battles with the Turkish military, which Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish region in Iraq, denies.

A Muslim nation and a member of NATO, Turkey, for centuries a shaky bridge between Europe and Asia, is desperately trying to keep a foot planted in both the West and the East. It is a difficult trick, which the Bush administration has made much more difficult.

Ankara opposed the invasion of Iraq, refusing to allow the White House to launch planes from its military bases, because it knew the invasion would destabilize the country. Turkey wants to maintain friendly relations with Iran and resents White House efforts to pressure it to join its sanctions campaign. The government's crankiness over a House resolution declaring Turkey's World War I-era massacre of Armenians to be genocide is part and parcel of its unhappiness with Washington.

If Turkey invades northern Iraq it may create another Chechnya. Its forces will have difficulty rooting out the Kurds from the mountains they know so well and Kurds in Turkey will become more rebellious. Iran and Syria may follow Turkey's lead and invade sections of Iraq that they have an interest in exploiting or subduing.

Barzani has urged Ankara to engage in talks about the alleged border incursions and Ankara should take up that offer. If Turkish leaders are reluctant to do so, the European Union should not be reluctant to lean on them. A Turkish incursion into Iraq would have repercussions that will be felt around the globe.


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