What would be a reasonable and proportionate Turkish response to the recent attacks by the Kurdistan Workers? Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S., from northern Iraq into southeastern Turkey?
Remember that 15 months ago, the armed wing of Lebanon's Hezbollah, listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S., attacked Israel's northern border, capturing two Israeli soldiers and killing eight more. Israel replied with air attacks all across Lebanon that killed around a thousand civilians.
Washington, London and Ottawa insisted that this was a reasonable and proportionate response, and shielded Israel from intense pressure to stop the attacks, even when Israel launched a land invasion of southern Lebanon.
More than 40 Turkish civilians and soldiers have been killed in attacks over the past two weeks, and a further eight Turkish soldiers were captured.
Well, it would be unreasonable for Turkey to bomb Iraq, where the PKK's bases are, for any more than one month. It would be quite disproportionate for the Turkish air force to level more than a small part of Baghdad - say, 15,000 homes. Ideally, it should leave Baghdad alone and restrict itself to destroying some Kurdish-populated city in northern Iraq near Turkey's own border. Moreover, when the Turks do invade Iraq on the ground, they should restrict themselves to the northern border strip where the PKK's bases are.
What's that? Washington is asking Turkey to show restraint and not attack Iraq at all? Even after the Kurdish terrorists killed or kidnapped all those people? Could it be that Turkish lives are worth less than Israeli lives?
Never mind. At least the U.S. officially classes the PKK as a terrorist organization and refuses to let its officials have any contact with it. But what's this? There is a parallel terrorist organization called the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), essentially a branch office of the PKK, also based in northern Iraq, that carries out attacks into the adjacent Kurdish-populated region of Iran, and the U.S. does not condemn the PJAK? It even sends its officials to have friendly chats with the PJAK terrorists? How odd.
The PJAK's leader, Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, paid an unofficial visit to Washington last summer. One of his close associates, Biryar Gabar, claims to have "normal dialogue' with U.S. officials, according to a report in the New York Times. And a U.S. military spokesperson in Baghdad issued a carefully structured non-denial saying that "the consensus is that U.S. forces are not working with or advising the PJAK."
Biryar Gabar also said that PJAK fighters have killed at least 150 Iranian soldiers and officials in the past three months. That's a lot more people than the PKK have killed in Turkey in the same time, and yet neither Washington nor any other Western country has expressed sympathy for Iran. Could it be that Iranian lives are worth even less than Turkish lives?
And here's something even more peculiar. Iran, like Turkey, is already shelling Kurdish villages on the Iraqi side of the frontier that it suspects of sheltering or supplying the PKK/PJAK. How come George W. Bush and Richard Cheney simply ignore these actions, when they've been building a case for attacking Iran?
We are told that Iran is supporting the anti-American insurgency in Iraq. Bush even warned us last week that a nuclear-armed Iran (which he insists is coming) would lead to World War III. So if they're that keen to attack Iran, why don't Bush and Cheney use the fact that Iranian artillery shells are falling on Kurdish villages in northern Iraq almost every day as a pretext for the attack? Are they getting cold feet?
I sincerely hope so, because the consequences of such an attack would be catastrophic. On the other hand, I doubt it, because they keep on painting themselves into a corner.
The U.S. military "assets' for an attack on Iran are all in place, so it can't be that. Maybe the delay means that the two are having difficulty persuading military professionals to go along with this hare-brained scheme. Most senior officers see an attack on Iran as leading to inevitable humiliation, and the last thing the White House wants is a rash of generals resigning in protest.
On the other hand, how many U.S. generals resigned when Bush committed the somewhat lesser folly of invading Iraq? Only one, and he did it very quietly.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.