The Kurds of northern Iraq – another betrayal is being prepared

The Turkish parliament has voted massively in favour of granting its army permission to carry out widespread military operations inside Iraq. Diplomatic pressure has been mounting to pull Turkey back from the brink, but the Turkish army continues to amass troops on its southeastern border. From being the most stable region of Iraq, the Kurdish area may become its most unstable and bloody.

On October 17 the Turkish parliament voted by a huge majority, 507 votes to 19, to grant the army permission to take military action inside northern Iraq, in the Kurdish territories. Since then we have had contradictory statements coming out of Turkey, combined with a frenetic flurry of diplomatic pressures. Meanwhile the Turkish army keeps amassing more troops on its southeastern border. This scenario promises to make the situation inside Iraq even more unstable.

The US-sponsored invasion of Iraq has proven to be an absolute failure. When the US troops first went in we were fed a mass of media hype about it being a short, sharp war that would establish a "modern" bourgeois parliamentary democracy, that would usher in stability and prosperity across the whole region. But that was all it was: media hype.

Almost four years ago, in November 2003 we wrote:

"What is happening in Iraq is that the US and its allies are beginning to get bogged down. The US military machine proved very good at occupying Iraq. In terms of conventional war they have an unbeatable army. But that is not the end of the story. It is one thing to win a war; it is another to hold down a whole people. Opposition to the presence of foreign troops in their country is growing among the Iraqi people. The official version is that the attacks are carried out by ‘pockets' of Saddam supporters. This is a lie to appease the consciences of people back home. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell this version of ‘the facts'. It is becomingly increasingly evident that the resistance movement is growing and getting ever more confident." (The Iraqi quagmire, By Fred Weston, November 18, 2003).

Since then an increasingly desperate US administration has tried to make up for its own inability to hold down Iraq by using the ethnic card. They have whipped up Shias against Sunnis in the hope of being able to "divide and rule". Instead of achieving their aims this has made things worse. Initially it was not the intention of US imperialism to break up Iraq along ethnic lines. They wanted a strong Iraq as an ally of US imperialism. Instead they have weakened it and allowed other states to emerge as strong regional powers. This is the case of Iran for example.

But in all this mess, there was one part of Iraq that was considered stable: the northern Kurdish area. In the US invasion of Iraq the leaders of the Iraqi Kurds had backed the US and provided help to the troops. While the US troops got on with taking over the rest of the country they could at least rest assured that the North would look after itself. In order to achieve this they had assured the Kurds some form of regional autonomy. And the Kurdish area has become a de facto autonomous region.

The problem is that the US, although Bush may think it is all-powerful and can decide the fate of all peoples in the world, is in reality very fragile. It has overstretched itself and this is not helped by having a particularly unintelligent president at its helm, who has made all the possible mistakes one could imagine.

Back in February 2003, In The In Defence of Marxism Manifesto on the imperialist war against Iraq, (By Alan Woods and Ted Grant) we warned the Kurdish people:

"Let us be clear about this: it is an act of betrayal to present this war of aggression as a means of attaining Kurdish self-determination. Turkey, the main US ally in the region, would never allow it. The Turkish bourgeoisie is not contemplating joining this war for the sake of democracy, and certainly not for the sake of the Kurds! It has its eyes on the oilfields of Kirkuk and Mosul, which the Kurds also claim. Ankara has made it plain that if the Kurds try to take the oilfields, the Turkish army will invade and crush them, with the Americans looking on."

At the time we were criticised for adopting this position. But it is the duty of Marxists to always state the truth. We support the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination, but we must also explain how this is to be achieved. In the same article we explained:

"We defend the right of the Kurdish people to have their own homeland, but point out that this is only possible through the revolutionary overthrow of the reactionary regimes in Baghdad, Teheran and Ankara. On a capitalist basis there can be no real solution to the Kurdish problem. The Kurds must unite with the working people of Turkey, Iraq and Iran in the fight for workers' and peasants' power. On the basis of a socialist federation, it would be possible to achieve an autonomous Kurdish Socialist Republic, with the fullest democratic and national rights - including the right to secede, if they so wished.

"Those who argue that the only way to achieve national self-determination is by supporting imperialism against Baghdad are deceiving the people. This is a criminal and reactionary policy that will lead the Kurds and Shiites once more into a blind alley. There is no way out for the Kurds, Shiites and other peoples of the region on this basis."

What is happening now confirms everything we said on this question. The overwhelming vote of the Turkish parliament to allow its army to enter Northern Iraq is a clear indication that Turkey will not allow the Kurds to have any form of autonomy, let alone an independent state. If the Kurds in Iraq were to achieve this, it would create a serious problem inside Turkey where a large Kurdish population lives. It would encourage them to move in the same direction.

The latest headlines now read "Diplomacy staves off Turkish incursion". Condoleezza Rice and Gordon Brown have been adding their pressures to hold the Turkish army back. But while all this goes on the Turkish army keeps amassing troops on the Iraqi border. Turkey's Prime Minister, Erdogan is under huge pressure at home to send the troops in, but he makes the right noises for western consumption. He has declared that Turkey has no territorial designs on Iraq. That is like a lion saying it has lost its appetite for meat.

It is a fact that a Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq, far from helping to stabilise the area, would further exacerbate tensions. In the long run it would also create serious problems for Turkey. It is one thing to carry out sporadic raids into Iraq; a full-fledged invasion and occupation would be a different matter. But the Turkish ruling class are not looking at that at this stage.

There are two factors pushing them. One is that they are concerned about the stability of Turkey that would be put at risk by an autonomous or independent Iraqi Kurdistan. The other is that Turkey also has its own imperialist ambitions. They have their eyes on Iraq's northern oilfields that are within the Kurdish territories. As a result of the war in Iraq, Turkey has been strengthened. A huge amount of US military hardware is transported through Turkey across the border into Iraq. Turkey is also a key NATO ally of US imperialism and if it raises the stakes US imperialism is forced to listen.

We should add another, equally important factor: the situation inside Turkey. The social and economic conditions in Turkey are preparing a new wave of class struggle. Economic growth has been significant in recent years, exceeding 6%. However, inflation is high, standing at 9.8% in 2006. Under pressure from the European Union, the IMF and the World Bank, Turkey is being pushed to carry out widespread privatisations and attacks on welfare. Unemployment officially stands at over 10%, with underemployment calculated at around 4%. The real level of unemployment is most likely much higher and the overall level of poverty can be seen by the fact that according to official figures 20% of the population lives below the poverty line. On top of this there is huge social and economic polarisation, with the poorest 10% of the population consuming only 2.3% of national wealth, and the richest 10% consuming 30%.

In these conditions concentrating attention on the southeastern border is a very useful way of diverting attention away from the real social issues that affect Turkish society.

The Turkish army also should not be seen as any regular army. It has played a key role in the development of the Turkish state over decades. For years it was in direct control of the state, ruling through military dictatorships. Their power however was not purely military. They owned, and still own to a degree, important sectors of the economy directly.

The European Union in particular has been pressurising Turkey to change all this ‑ particularly through privatisation ‑ and open their economy. This has created conflicts within the Turkish state itself. One wing of the Turkish bourgeoisie has been pushing for entry into the European Union, listing all the advantages that this would present in terms of markets and investment.

But the European Union, in particular the French and the Germans, have been delaying Turkey's admission and it may be many years before it is allowed in. Partly this is due to concerns about Turkey's unemployed flooding into the more developed EU countries, in a similar manner to what we have seen with Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and so on.

Another reason for delay is that Turkey is viewed as a stooge of US imperialism and therefore is seen as being potentially a lever for US imperialism to impose its policies inside Europe.

All this has pushed a wing of the Turkish ruling class in drawing the conclusion that its interests lie elsewhere, not to the West but to the East. The present move in regards to Iraq fits well with this outlook. The Turkish army in particular is sending a clear message to all who want to hear that they are a powerful nation, with a powerful military machine, and they are a force that needs to be taken seriously. That is why they have pressurised parliament into voting the way it did last week.

Now, in an attempt to hold back Turkey from going into Iraq, the toothless Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri Maliki has promised that his government would work on limiting the PKK's "terrorist activities which are threatening Iraq and Turkey". The Turks have in fact been demanding that both the Iraqi government and the US army do something to remove the PKK bases from northern Iraq. In an attempt to stave off a Turkish invasion, the Iraqi government has now called on the PKK to leave Iraq.

The question is: how can the Iraqi government police the northern border if it cannot even hold whole areas of the rest of the country, and how can the US troops dedicate forces to the north when they are bogged down elsewhere? In fact, General David Petraeus, the US military commander in Iraq has stated quite openly that it would be very difficult for anyone to police the northern border. Therefore his only proposal is that "pressure" should be put on the PKK to stop its attacks on Turkish military.

The PKK is said to have between 3000 and 3500 guerrillas based in northern Iraq. From here they have intensified their attacks on the Turkish army. How is this force supposed to be "pressurised" into halting its armed operations, by words alone?

An advisor to the Iraqi government, Sami al-Askari has stated openly that, "The Kurdistan regional government should not allow PKK fighters to infiltrate in to Turkey from northern Iraq," but he added that, "The Iraqi government will not use its army and police to stand in front of the Turkish army because security in that region is the responsibility of the multinational forces and the peshmerga."

Thus the only real way of removing the PKK bases would be to get the Kurdish peshmerga forces to move against their Kurdish brothers. Turkey is in fact demanding that the PKK camps inside Iraq be closed down and that the group's leaders should be arrested and extradited to Turkey. Massoud Barzani, the regional president of Iraqi Kurdistan has no love for the PKK, nor does Jalal Talabani, Iraq's president, who is also a Kurd. They would betray the Turkish Kurds if they could, in order to defend their own greedy local interests.

That, however, is easier said than done. The Turks are in fact posing demands that they know cannot be met. Turkey's foreign minister, Ali Babacan has stated that a military option would be "the last resort" and added that, "We will continue these diplomatic efforts with all good intentions to solve this problem caused by a terrorist organisation." But after having reassured his imperialist friends with these sweet words he added that, "If we do not reach any results, there are other means we might have to use." Prime Minister, Erdogan made the same point to Gordon Brown during his recent visit to Britain, stating that the Turkish military could use force "at any time" if the Iraqi government failed to act.

This is all diplomatic talk to prepare public opinion for a Turkish military operation inside Iraq. The killing of several Turkish soldiers and the disappearance of eight, who may have been captured by the PKK, is being used by the Turkish government to justify its stance. The situation reminds us somewhat of Israel's invasion of Lebanon last year. It is common knowledge now that the Israeli military placed their own soldiers in danger of being kidnapped, so as to have the excuse to go into Lebanon. Here a number of deaths among Turkey's soldiers and a few gone missing is a very good excuse for the Turkish army to go in.

Marxists never base themselves on the simplistic concept of "who started it". It is always possible to fabricate an excuse. The point is that Turkey has always had imperialist aspirations in the region. The fact that the PKK has bases in northern Iraq, is merely an excuse to interfere in the affairs of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurds in northern Iraq have de facto achieved an element of regional self-rule, although still as part of Iraq.

The problem is that now there is the serious risk of Iraq breaking up. Should the US troops pull out now Iraq could break up into its component parts. It was never a "natural" state made up of a homogenous people. Like most of the states in the region, its borders were drawn up by the imperialist before they left after direct colonial rule was no longer possible. For a period, however, there was a genuine Iraqi identity that had been established. That has now been torn in pieces, precisely by the blunders of US imperialism.

Should Iraq break up, the northern Kurdish region could break away as a separate entity. That is never going to be allowed to happen by Turkey. As we explained in July 2004, (The war in Iraq and the impending collapse of the Saudi Arabian monarchy By Greg Oxley and Layla Al Koureychi):

"Turkey has made it quite clear that it will never accept autonomy for the Kurds in northern Iraq. This is because Kurdish autonomy would act as a stimulus to the struggle of the Kurds within Turkey itself. The Bush administration has been playing for time, trying to reassure both the Kurds in Iraq and the Turkish government. But this double game cannot go on forever. Ultimately, the only way for Washington to prevent a Turkish intervention would be to move in the direction of disarming the Kurds. This would inevitably lead to armed conflict."

As the US army is not really in a position to this now, it opens the prospect of the Turkish army going in to do the job. In the next few days we will see how far Turkey will go. Their hand may be held back temporarily through a combination of heavy US pressure on Turkey and measures inside Iraqi Kurdistan against the PKK. The problem is that there are no real forces that can seriously deal with the PKK. That would indicate that the situation will eventually lead to a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq.

Inside Turkey the nationalist are whipping up the anger of a layer of the population, organising rallies calling for the troops to go in. The other side to this is the growing protest inside Iraqi Kurdistan. Last week thousands of Kurds in Iraq protested in Irbil and Dahuk against the decision of the Turkish parliament. Some of the banners read, "We will resist the Turkish". The Kurds know only too well what the Turkish army is capable of, as it has killed thousands of Kurds in Turkey, razing whole villages in the process.

The fact is that Turkish troops have already been operating inside Iraq, with the consent of the Iraqi government. In September the Turkish and Iraqi governments had struck a deal that allows the Turkish army to cross the border in pursuit of PKK guerrillas. This is merely a continuation of a de facto deal during the Saddam Hussein era that allowed such operations. The leaders of the Iraqi Kurds also tacitly consented to these operations, before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

When this recent deal was struck, the Iraqi Minister of the Interior stated that, "An enemy of the Turkish people and democracy in Turkey is an enemy of the Iraqi people and democracy in Iraq." This gentleman ignores the fact that there is no true democracy either in Turkey or Iraq and that in both countries a part of the "people" are Kurdish.

Even Bush has admitted that Turkish troops have been operating in Iraq for some time. But these have been limited incursions "chasing" the PKK guerrillas across the border, as they put it. What is being posed now is an invasion that would possibly end up with Turkey creating a buffer zone inside Iraq along the whole of its border, a de facto occupation of a part of the country. This is what the Turkish army in fact is demanding.

The patience of the Turkish military must be wearing thin. Back in 2003 the Turkish parliament passed two motions authorising the army to enter Iraq. Then it would have been part of the general attack on Iraq, with Turkey taking responsibility for the north. This, however, far from guaranteeing stability, would have provoked the Iraqi Kurds into revolt. The Americans gained the collaboration of the leaders of the Iraqi Kurds by promising some kind of autonomy. This would have been impossible under Turkish bayonets! In this we see how the Kurds are being used as mere pawns.

If the US has to choose between the Kurds in the north of Iraq and its Turkish allies, we know what choice they will make. They will betray the Kurds as the imperialists have done many times in the past.

We see their attitude clearly over the issue of the Armenian genocide. Just before the Turkish parliament voted massively for military operations inside Iraq, the US Congress had been discussing whether to officially recognise that the Ottoman-era mass killings of Armenians was in fact genocide. It seemed that there would be a majority in favour of recognising this fact. But under pressure, many congressmen have started having second thoughts. Now it seems unlikely the motion will go through. This is clearly an attempt to appease the Turkish government.

This little incident shows how dear "principles" are to a man like Bush, and with him the whole of the US ruling class. Everyone knows that the Armenians were massacred in huge numbers. It is one of the many crimes of history, carried out by the various ruling classes of this world. But the US rulers are prepared to betray the Armenian people quite easily. Just as easily they will betray the Kurds, who until recently they referred to as "allies".

When the Turkish army goes in, the USA will not stand in its way. It will betray the Kurds as we have warned many times. They have used the Kurds and will discard them once they have no more use for them.

The Kurdish nation is one of the largest in the world without its own territory. Over the decades and centuries it has been used by this or that imperial power, without ever achieving anything. The Kurds have been gassed, bombed and massacred by different powers. This will continue so long as capitalism dominates the region.

If Iraqi Kurdistan were to move seriously in the direction of separation this would push the Kurds in Turkey to do likewise. The Kurds have a right to live in peace and govern themselves, but this will not be achieved under the present set up. As we have seen, Turkey is not going to relinquish control over its southeastern regions.

Therefore the road to genuine Kurdish self-determination lies in the overthrow of capitalism in Turkey, the overthrow of the rotten Islamic regime in Iran, the expulsion of US imperialism from the region and the establishment of a workers' state in Iraq, together with the overthrow of all the rotten despotic regimes in the region.

Thus, the Kurdish workers need to unite with their Turkish, Iranian, Iraqi brothers. On the basis of the class struggle in all these countries, that will inevitably develop in the coming period, the perspective must be posed of socialist revolution across the region that would allow for the formation of a Socialist Federation of the whole of the Middle East, within which not only the Kurds, but all the peoples would find room for a homeland and genuine self-determination. There is no other way!

Any other way, involves deals and manoeuvres involving the imperialists and the local ruling elites. On this basis we go back to square one and the whole bloody business starts up once more.


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