Subscriptions

June 23, 2007

Due to a technical error, readers were unable to subscribe to the feed for tinyplanetblog.com. If you’ve been affected by this, I’ve fixed things. The feed can also be found here.

Thanks for your patience.

David


On the move

June 15, 2007

Dear reader,

Tinyplanet has packed its bags and its moving to a new domain. Come and visit at www.tinyplanetblog.com.


It’s all kicking off (follow-up)

June 9, 2007

Iraq has made a formal complaint over the Turkish bombardment of the Kurdish north.

The Turks have been shelling villages in Dohuk province and the city of Arbil, although the Turkish media reports the areas being targetted have largely been abandoned to Kurdish fighters.

In my last post on this topic, I noted how a cross-border incursion could have unpredictable and destabilising effects. It seems the Iraqi foreign ministry has come to the same conclusion. It has told the Turks that the artillery fire could “destabilise the region and could erode confidence between the two countries”.

The AP article linked to at the top of this post says the US has “opposed any unilateral action by Turkey for fear it would jeopardise the relative tranquility of northern Iraq”. However, I can not recall reading any such statement; at least not in recent times.

I am not an expert on this conflict, but I feel it has potentially widespread ramifications.

The Turks, in their eyes, have a legitimate security concern. The conflict with the Kurdish PKK has lead to tens of thousands of deaths over the last two decades. Turkey claims Iraqi Kurds are harbouring militants, who then slip over the frontier to launch attacks.

The Kurds also have legitimate grievances, such as cultural and political suppression. And we must always remain aware that the PKK is considered a terrorist group not just by Turkey, but by the US, NATO and EU. Their actions have caused the deaths and suffering of a great many civilians. They have been accused of grave human rights abuses.

Turkey fears an economically sound Kurdish region in Iraq — a territory that while not being independent outright would still possess great oil wealth — will lead to a major push among Turkish Kurds for union with their southern neighbours.

One might think that the Turks would welcome the departure of what it considers a restive ethnic group. However, the Kurds represent about 20% of the Turkish population and dwell in a broad swathe of territory in the nation’s southeast:

(from Wikipedia)

This is not a homogenous region. Many Turks live within what is generally referred to as Kurdistan (as do Arabs, Iranians, Armenians and many other groups). So the removal of this region from the political entity of Turkey would remove a great many Turks as well.

This would certainly be an economic blow. While there would be an accompanying reduction in spending on infrastructure, education, healthcare and the like, the sudden disappearance of 20 million people from the tax base would leave a major whole in government coffers.

But there are other factors, such as pride.

The Turkish government would not want to be seen as having abandoned many of its citizens to a new state (although there would always be the possibility of a population transfer, as was the case in India and Pakistan after their independence). Seldom are nations eager to give up national territory; historically human and state political ambition has always been more, more, more.

Security would be a further concern. Turkey would suddenly have a substantial, perhaps hostile nation on its southern and eastern borders. And Turkey does not formally recognise a Kurdish region within its state; this fluid situation would lead to further infighting over what would and would not be part of Kurdistan. It is possible that the Turks would view an independent Kurdish nation as a base for Kurdish rebels seeking to unify with Kurds still within Turkey.

There are solutions. A UN boundary commission is one, domestic referenda on a district-by-district basis is another. There are undoubtedly more which aren’t springing to mind right now.


It’s all kicking off

June 6, 2007

Turkish troops have entered Iraq in a move that can not be good for anyone.

No Turkish official is willing to put their name to the story confirming the operation, while the Foreign Minister has openly denied anything happened. But as Selcan Hacaoglu of the Associated Press notes, the nation’s authorities rarely acknowledge such activity.

Estimates of the number of troops ranges from thousands to several hundred — initial speculation put the figure at 50,000, which was the case in 1997 — but what runs consistent is that the military is pursuing Kurdish fighters.

It may only have been a couple of miles across the frontier, but it is troubling.

The military has for some time been pushing for a large-scale incursion to tackle the Kurdish separatists, the PKK, which Turkey considers terrorists. The Turkish army has been massing along the border in preparation; last week the country’s top general, Yasar Buyukanit, said his forces were awaiting government permission to cross into Iraq.

Turkey’s alliance with the US will grant it some degree of protection should it decide to step up its campaign against the PKK, which launches attacks from bases in Iraq. However, a full-scale incursion can only add to Iraq’s instability.

The introduction of this hostile actor in such a volatile stage will have unpredictable and uncontrollable results. The Kurds — who dwell in a stretch of territory that includes south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq — will be squeezed into a corner. The Iraqi government will be in an intolerable position: if it allows a Turkish incursion its claim to govern its national territory will be null and void, while if it resists it faces provoking a conflict with its neighbour.

I am struck by the absence of international condemnation.

Imagine the outcry if the US was pushing for a military operation inside Canada, or China in Japan, or Britain in Ireland.


The political Gulf

May 28, 2007

The US and Iran have agreed a broad policy on Iraq.

The consensus, which must be reviewed in Washington and Tehran, calls for a “trilateral security mechanism” consisting of the three nations, and depends on the Iranians ending support for militants.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the talks could lead to future meetings, but only if Washington admits its Middle East policy has been unsuccessful.

Iran and the US have been at odds for years, but things have intensified because of the Iranian nuclear programme. Adding to the tension were the recent American naval exercises in the Gulf, which has resulted in an increased US build-up in the region. However, the face-to-face talks between US ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iranian ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi — which focused solely on Iraq — do mark a slight thawing in relations.

It’s just too bad that people on both sides are looking for an armed conflict.

Steven Clemons reports that Dick Cheney is busy undermining diplomatic initiatives toward the Islamic Republic. It is a complex move on several fronts: elements within the Department of Defence and national intelligence are readying for conflict in a bid to convince Iran that it could be attacked, while Cheney and his cohorts want to persuade Bush that the military option is viable.

This runs contrary to the diplomatic efforts of Condi Rice, which are backed by the Pentagon, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and CIA Director Michael Hayden.

Apparently:

The thinking on Cheney’s team is to collude with Israel, nudging Israel at some key moment in the ongoing standoff between Iran’s nuclear activities and international frustration over this to mount a small-scale conventional strike against Natanz using cruise missiles (i.e., not ballistic missiles) .

This would provoke an Iranian military response and force Bush to abandon diplomacy in favour of another war.

Clemons has derived his information from a Cheney aide, who has been doing the rounds in Washington in a bid to drum up support for hawkish maneouvres against Iran. This official has apparently been saying words to the effect that:

Cheney believes that Bush can not be counted on to make the “right decision” when it comes to dealing with Iran and thus Cheney believes that he must tie the President’s hands.

A scary thought.

On the other side are Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard. War would suit them down to the ground as it would give both a major boost in domestic support. Like the Cheney brigade, these actors are not necessarily advocating an out-and-out conflict, but manoeuvering so it becomes a viable, even preferential option.

Who would win such a conflict? That depends on the definition of victory. Ousting Ahmadinejad and implementing a more favourable regime (which would, quite incidentally, allow the US greater access to Iranian oil reserves) is one such definition. On the Iranian side, simply not being conquered would be enough. Repelling a US invasion — should it come to such a drastic measure — would be PR gold.

Anything the US has learned in Iraq would be practically useless in Iran. The US and its allies have had enough trouble subjucating Iraq, and Iran dwarfs its neighbour, as this Wikipedia map shows (click for larger view):

659px-middleeast.png

It is also a mountainous country, which would slow down any military advance and allow Iranian forces to conduct a successful guerilla war. It is unlikely the likes of Pakistan, Afghanistan or Turkey would allow the staging of an invasion.

But that said any war would most likely take the form (initially at least) of airstrikes on key infrastructure in a bid to bring the country to its economic knees. This was the pattern followed in Serbia during the Kosovan conflict and in Iraq prior to the invasion. It also offers the best PR strategy for the US, as its military can be seen as winning while risking very few of its members.

Both Cheney and Ahmadinejad are playing a dangerous game. A chaotic Iraq has already threatened to destabilise the region; a chaotic Iran would only add to this. Whether it would unlease further sectarian strife is a subject for wiser heads than mine. But there would be no happy ending to such a story.


Something suspicious this way comes…

April 28, 2007

Does anyone else find the news of Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi’s capture rather suspect? The timing certainly is. Just as the US military faces an almighty shitstorm regarding the Pat Tillmann and Jessica Lynch illusions, BAM! THEY GOT ONE! And a senior one at that.

Having been held in secret by the CIA for several months, he was apparently shipped to Guantanamo Bay this week. A few Associated Press reports state he was captured last autumn while trying to cross back into his native Iraq. He is suspected of all sorts of terror-related crimes, from plotting to kill the president of Pakistan to masterminding the July 7 bombings in London.

Iraqi (a nom de guerre) may have a fearsome reputation, but that reputation is being hyped by the US. That’s not to say he hasn’t been involved in terrorism, but there is an underwhelming amount of concrete data on the guy. Check out the speculative terms in this Guardian article on him.

I can’t be the only person who feels pulling him out now has managed to overshadow the PR damage being done by the lies about Tillmann and Lynch.

If nothing else, it puts a new face on the “war on terror”, and a face behind bars at that.


Sign of the times

April 21, 2007

It’s an indication of how routine the slaughter in Iraq has become when stories are headlined “Yet another Fallujah leader assassinated”. This Associated Press article, written by Sinan Salaheddin and copy edited by persons unknown, details how the killing of a 65-year-old politician marks the fourth murder of a city council chairman in some 14 months. Sami Abdul-Amir al-Jumaili, a Sunni critic of al-Qaida who was the only person brave enough to accept the job, died in a drive-by shooting as he walked outside his home.

UPDATE, APRIL 22: the article now has a new heading, “Sunni struggle claims 4th Fallujah chief”.