Stepped-up hostilities between Turkish forces and Kurdish guerrillas in southeastern Turkey and predominantly Kurdish northern Iraq coupled with a high-powered Iraqi Kurdish campaign to achieve greater autonomy are complicating U.S. efforts to ensure that Iraq remains united once American troops leave the country. The increased hostilities couldn't come at a worse time for the Obama administration, which is preparing for next year's withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
The U.S. had hoped that closer Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish cooperation and Ankara's conciliatory moves toward Turkey's estimated 15 million Kurds -- who account for approximately 20 percent of Turkey's population -- would end a decades-old Kurdish insurgency in Turkey. Instead, Turkish warplanes are targeting PKK bases in northern Iraq with increased regularity, and the Turkish military is re-establishing checkpoints in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey. The U.S., which has designated the PKK a terrorist organization, is assisting Turkey by providing intelligence to its military and granting Turkish fighter jets greater access to northern Iraqi air space.
The hostilities threaten to jeopardize Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan's efforts to persuade the outlawed PKK to lay down its arms and end fighting that has cost some 45,000 lives, by granting Turkish Kurds greater political and cultural freedom. Despite the fighting and increasingly tough language towards the PKK, Erdogan continues to pay lip service to the notion that the conflict with the Kurds cannot be resolved with military means alone. Yet, with a controversial constitutional referendum scheduled for September, elections due next year and nationalist calls for a harder line towards the PKK, Erdogan will be hard-pressed to respond positively to recent PKK overtures for a ceasefire and a negotiated solution.