Thousands of Turkish troops pour across the border into Northern Iraq
This is the photo that is splashed across the front of nearly every Turkish newspaper this morning. Released on the Turkish Armed Forces website, it shows troops marching over the snowy border into Iraq. There are reported to be another ten thousand of them.
Newspapers outside Turkey have been covering it too. This morning’s Independent called it “the new invasion of Iraq … it threatens to destabilise the country’s only peaceful region”. It is indeed, as The Times says, Turkey’s biggest incursion into the country for more than a decade. And as Radikal points out, the operation is taking place under “assurances” from Ankara and “understanding” from the rest of the world. No major political leader – not even the Iraqi president, himself a Kurd – has called this an illegal invasion.
Details of what is happening remain sketchy. The terrain is mountainous, temperatures are subzero, and the constant exchange of fire means there are no independent reporters in the region. All we have is what the Turkish army and sources close to the PKK tell us and, perhaps predictably, the information conflicts. The Turks say five of its troops have been killed in action, the PKK puts that figure at twenty. The Turks say they’ve killed 24 fighters, the PKK says it has no losses. Who to believe?
Alone in its opposition to the incursion was Birgün, which carried the headline “No! – to war, to conditions of war, to the noise of war”. It says the land operation will “affect our side of the border more than it does the other. The powers of peace and democracy are wary for young lives and the spirirt of living among one another.” There is, in this, a message that is conceded even by Turkish generals: Turkey’s Kurdish problem cannot be solved purely by military means.
Murat Yetkin writes in today’s Radikal that the time is right to take measures “other than military steps, to take political, legal and economic steps to combat those conditions that create the PKK.” Iraqi president Jalal Talabani was invited yesterday to Ankara, he says, with this in mind. This diplomacy is perhaps more important than the strikes.
Turkey has so far been playing this effectively, and by the book. The current operation is expected to last a fortnight; there might be more to follow in the coming months. But it is vital not to lose perspective, and ensure that any solution is a lasting one. Diplomacy and reform is the way to do it.