I wrote last week of a secret plan to send U.S. Special Forces troops to hunt down Kurdish PKK rebels in the mountains of northern Iraq. The plan was first exposed by columnist Robert Novak. Well, in this morning's Washington Post, Ellen Knickmeyer reports that the Turkish political establishment and military have agreed that the time for action against Kurdish rebels has come. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will visit Ankara tomorrow for discussions with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Knickmeyer writes that the Turkish leader will deliver "a final warning" for Maliki to act against PKK guerillas based on the Iraqi side of the Turkish-Iraqi border. One analyst quoted in the article said that a Turkish incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan could took place as early as August or September.
Meanwhile, Xinhua, the Chinese press agency, reports that Maliki could sign a cooperation agreement with Erdogan during their Ankara summit. According to one Turkish official quoted in the article, "We [asked the Iraqi authorities] to sign a cooperation agreement on counter-terrorism, and they welcomed the offer. They two countries are now working on a draft agreement... There is a chance to sign the agreement during Maliki's visit, if it is completed on time." No word on how the regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan feels about this...
As for U.S. participation in a drive to oust the PKK from Iraq, Novak's column may have altered the political calculus. According to The Journal of Turkish Weekly, published by Ankara's International Strategic Research Organization:
Sources close to the Turkish military say the military did not look warmly to the idea of a joint covert operation with the Americans to capture PKK leaders in northern Iraq because they felt even the gossip of such a plan would be leaked and would drive the terrorist leadership deeper underground thus preventing planners from monitoring their whereabouts.
They feared exactly what happened after the Washington Post leaked a story that American officials had briefed senior congressional members about a planned joint operation to capture leaders of the PKK terrorist organization holed up in the northern Iraqi mountains.
They said the news leak meant such an operation had now become null and void.
Even as the U.S. schemes to expel the PKK from Iraq, the organization's Iranian arm—known as PJAK—is looking to the Americans for help. Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, the group's leader, is visiting Washington this week. In a weekend interview with the Washington Times, he appealed to the U.S. government for support:
We obviously cannot topple the government with the ammunition and weapons we have now... Any financial or military help that would speed the path to true Iranian democracy, we would very much welcome, particularly from the United States.
Both the PKK and PJAK are based in the Kandil mountain range in northern Iraq. More on this as it develops...