While Iraq still maintains legal sovereignty over the majority Kurdish areas in the north of the country, the Kurds in that region have been enjoying de facto autonomy/independence since the end of the first Gulf War in 1991. A direct result of United Nations Security Council resolutions mandating, above all else, the establishment of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s regime had no presence there from 1991 on. The ouster of Saddam’s regime has only made Kurdish control of the territory more secure. It’s not inconceivable that a Kosovo-type situation could obtain here as well. A crucial difference in the Kurdish situation is the presence of a large group of ethnic Kurds living in neighboring Turkey, who have waged a sporadic, decades-long campaign (using various tactics, including terrorism) to pressure the Turkish government into granting the Kurds more autonomy, if not outright independence. The situation has become even more serious, as this report from the New York Times illustrates:
ISTANBUL — Turkey’s military said on Friday that it had sent ground troops into northern Iraq on Thursday night, in an operation aimed at weakening Kurdish militants there, but it was unclear how many or how long they would stay.
The Turkish General Staff, in an announcement on its Web site, gave no details on the size of the incursion. An American military spokesman in Baghdad said the ground offensive would be of “limited duration.”
The Turkish offensive appears to be aimed at dealing a surprise blow to the Kurdish militants, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, before the snow along the mountainous border between the two countries melts and the guerrillas make their traditional spring advance into Turkey.
The militants, known as the P.K.K., want greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish minority and have fought the Turkish military for decades. Some of their hide-outs are in Turkey, but some are in northern Iraq, and the rebels have crossed the border into Turkey repeatedly to attack.
It was not clear what role the United States had played in the incursion. But the operation sets two of its closest allies in a troubled region against each other. Turkey is a NATO member that borders Iran, Iraq and Syria; the Iraqi Kurds, who control northern Iraq, are the most important American partners in the Iraq war.
The United States has been wary of Turkish efforts to stamp out the Kurdish militants, with Turkish officials chafing at what they view as a double-standard, escalation tension between the NATO allies.