Commentary Magazine


Topic: Supreme Leader

Hunting the PKK

As I have indicated previously in contentions, I have limited sympathy for Turkish complaints about the Armenian genocide resolution. Although I think it’s a mistake for Congress to pass this legislation because it will aggravate the Turks, I also think it’s a mistake for the Turks to engage in genocide-denial. From their own perspective, they would be much better off to admit the crimes committed against the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, and move on.

But the Turks are on firmer ground with their complaints about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, which uses northern Iraq as a sanctuary for launching attacks into southern Turkey. The Erdogan government has responded by asking parliament for authorization to conduct raids into northern Iraq—something that the Turkish military has long been seeking and a demand to which I am sympathetic, notwithstanding the problems it undoubtedly will cause with America’s Kurdish allies in Iraq.

Countries have a responsibility for policing their own soil and ensuring it is not used for attacks on neighboring states. Iraq has been falling down on the job. In general, of course, the Iraqi state is incapable of policing itself, but this is much less the case in the Kurdish North, where the peshmerga fighters—many now part of the Iraqi Security Forces—exercise a fair degree of control. And yet the PKK, a vicious Marxist terrorist group that seeks independence for Kurdish areas of Turkey, has been able to operate from northern Iraq with impunity. Turkey has suffered a steady stream of casualties, including the loss of thirteen soldiers in just one attack this month.

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As I have indicated previously in contentions, I have limited sympathy for Turkish complaints about the Armenian genocide resolution. Although I think it’s a mistake for Congress to pass this legislation because it will aggravate the Turks, I also think it’s a mistake for the Turks to engage in genocide-denial. From their own perspective, they would be much better off to admit the crimes committed against the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, and move on.

But the Turks are on firmer ground with their complaints about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, which uses northern Iraq as a sanctuary for launching attacks into southern Turkey. The Erdogan government has responded by asking parliament for authorization to conduct raids into northern Iraq—something that the Turkish military has long been seeking and a demand to which I am sympathetic, notwithstanding the problems it undoubtedly will cause with America’s Kurdish allies in Iraq.

Countries have a responsibility for policing their own soil and ensuring it is not used for attacks on neighboring states. Iraq has been falling down on the job. In general, of course, the Iraqi state is incapable of policing itself, but this is much less the case in the Kurdish North, where the peshmerga fighters—many now part of the Iraqi Security Forces—exercise a fair degree of control. And yet the PKK, a vicious Marxist terrorist group that seeks independence for Kurdish areas of Turkey, has been able to operate from northern Iraq with impunity. Turkey has suffered a steady stream of casualties, including the loss of thirteen soldiers in just one attack this month.

The Turks’ desire to take military action is understandable, and fully in keeping with the Bush Doctrine. It would be better, of course, if Iraqi and U.S. forces were to do more to shut down PKK activities. But if they can’t (or won’t), the Turks have a right to act. The Iranians already have been taking similar action, shelling Kurdish villages supposedly sheltering terrorists operating against the regime in Tehran.

Naturally, however, if the Turks and Iranians exercise their right of “hot pursuit” of terrorists, then the U.S. should as well. Of course, if our military starts hunting those responsible for terrorist attacks in Iraq, it might well wind up crossing the borders of Syria and Iran. So be it. As Bill Kristol has argued: “After all, if Khameini . . . has already established the principle of cross-border attacks against accelerators of violence, who are we to disagree with the wisdom of the Supreme Leader?”

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