Under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey has pursued a policy of good relations with all its neighbours. Well, almost.
It has de-mined its border with Syria, tripled trade with Iran, established diplomatic relations with Armenia and reduced its military activities in the Aegean Sea in order to ameliorate Greece. Yet, while Ankara often rebuffs Western concerns about its increasingly warm relations with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas with reference to its desire to have no problems with its neighbors, Turkey inexplicably has taken no action to end its more than two decade-long occupation of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Certainly, Turkey withdrew its Peace Monitoring Force component from Erbil in 2004, years after the Kurdish civil war ended, but the Turks continue to maintain armed outposts and camps in Amadiya, Bamerne, Sheladiz and Kani Masi. Such a presence is an affront both to Iraqi sovereignty and to Iraqi Kurdistan.
Kurds should not let Turkish diplomats and politicians simply blame the Turkish military or “Deep State.” Erdoğan and his allies have dominated Turkish politics long enough and have overruled Turkish military concerns elsewhere. Where there is a will, there is a way. Nor does the Kurdish terrorist threat Turkey cites justify maintaining bases: After all, Erdoğan has made clear in Gaza and elsewhere that cross-border terrorism does not justify military occupation.
Masud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region, does Iraqi Kurdistan no favors by staking a tough position in the Iraqi Kurdish media, but being quite conciliatory toward the Turks during his visits to Washington and Ankara. If the Kurdish leadership were to demand forcefully that Turkish forces leave Iraqi territory, they might find themselves successful. At the very least, they would remind the international community that Turkey is not the peacemaker it claims to be. Perhaps the call could be taken up by the significant Kurdish communities in Sweden, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe. If Turkey wishes to join Europe or simply have diplomatic credibility in the region, it must end its occupation in Iraqi Kurdistan now.
*This article appeared in The Kurdistan Tribune, 28 May 2011. Reproduced from http://www.michaelrubin.org/9680/turkey-occupation-iraqi-kurdistan.