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Lenore G. Martin

The missing player in Gulf security

THE BUSH administration recently proposed to sell $20 billion in sophisticated weaponry to the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. This move spotlights the need for allied support for US efforts to counter Iran's threats to Gulf security. Yet Washington already has a strategically located NATO ally in the region: Turkey. Unfortunately, the administration's policies are pushing Turkey toward Iran rather than planting it firmly in the US security network.

Some in Washington want to maintain military bases in northern Iraq, even after a US withdrawal from the rest of the country. This is a strategic error, because it would endanger Turkey's security and ignore the coming instability in northern Iraq.

Before the invasion of Iraq, Turkey proved its value as a critical ally in containing Saddam Hussein's Iraq. By granting the US rights to use the Incirlik air base, Turkey helped expel the Iraqis from Kuwait and deny Saddam access to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

In 2003, by contrast, Turkey did not permit the United States to enter Iraq across its border. Approximately 90 percent of Turks opposed the invasion, fearing one outcome would be an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq that would make appeals to Turkish Kurds. Turkey also feared that an independent Kurdistan would give sanctuary to the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a Kurdish terrorist group that had waged a guerrilla war in southeast Anatolia from 1984 to 1999, resulting in over 30,000 deaths.

With the revival of PKK violence in Turkey in 2004, Turkish fears concerning Kurdistan are becoming a reality. The PKK is ensconced in the Kandil mountains of Northern Iraq, killing Turkish soldiers almost daily, and has set off bombs in major Turkish cities. The Kurdish Regional Government, led by Massoud Barzani, refuses to isolate or oust the PKK.

In response, the Turkish military has assembled a large force at the border and threatened to invade northern Iraq. The United States is warning Turkey not to, fearing that a major Turkish military incursion will destabilize Kurdistan, currently the most stable region in Iraq.

This stability is ephemeral. Indeed, signs of trouble are already evident, due in part to the contest between Kurds and the rest of Iraq over oil-rich Kirkuk. The instability is likely to continue, whether the constitutionally mandated referendum over Kirkuk's fate is held or not. The Sunni and Shia will not live quietly with the inclusion of Kirkuk into the Kurdish Regional Government -- at least without an oil-sharing agreement, which has proved elusive.

Instability in the north will further increase as the neighboring states worry more about an independent Kurdistan. After Jalal Talabani was elected president of Iraq, his fellow Kurds in Syria were elated, but celebrations there were put down by a military fearful of Kurdish nationalism. Meanwhile, PJAK, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, an offshoot of the PKK, is conducting its own violent campaign in Iran from its bases in northern Iraq -- with arms from the United States, some say.

Tehran and Ankara have been cooperating in cross-border shelling of PKK and PJAK. They can be expected to cooperate further -- and possibly with Syria -- in taking advantage of factionalism among Iraqi Kurds.

Instead of pursuing policies that encourage Turkey to make common cause with Iran, Washington should be taking action to reinvigorate the US-Turkish alliance. Washington should act now, while it has maximum leverage over the Iraqi Kurds, to induce Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, to cooperate with Turkey in combating the PKK as he did in the 1990s. The Iraqi Kurds should deny the PKK access to arms and financial resources, and expel its leaders and ultimately its forces from northern Iraq. That will give Ankara the incentive to negotiate a modus vivendi with the Iraqi Kurds.

Though Barzani may fear this route will cause some dissension among Iraqi Kurds, it will benefit Turkey and Iraqi Kurds by increasing their already active trade, including the export of Iraqi oil through pipelines from landlocked Kurdistan.

Turkey and the United States have many common interests in the area. Policies that allow the PKK to remain in northern Iraq will undermine the willingness of Turkey to assist US strategy in the Gulf region. We need to change our policies from those that allow the sheltering of a terrorist group to those that support an ally.

Lenore G. Martin is a professor of political science at Emmanuel College and an associate at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

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