Is Iraqi Kurdistan Now a Free-Fly Zone?

Regarding Iran’s helicopter attacks against PJAK camps in Iraqi Kurdistan over the weekend, John McCreary at NightWatch wonders:

The curious point isthat combat aircraft from both Iranand Turkey violate Iraqiairspace with impunity while a USarmy and air force is responsible for protecting the country. That would seemto need an explanation by someone, but, then, this is the Middle East.

That the Turkish aircraft get a pass is due to lobbying by PM Tayyip Recep Ergogan in November 2007 that has gone a long way towards redrawing the map of northern Iraq from a Turkish-Kurdish standoff into a Turkish-Kurdish partnership. There’s still some ground to cover on that remapping, but the progress to date is pretty extraordinary.

As for the Iranian attacks, McCreary cites the AFP, which describes them as cross-border raids. On the other hand, Reuters reported that the helicopters were “used to fire from the Iranian side of the border.” Either way, the attacks were accompanied by Iranian shelling and constitute a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, drawing formal Iraqi protest and the summoning of the Iranian ambassador.

Two thoughts. First, there’s a certain irony to the fact that Iraqi Kurdistan, once a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone under Saddam Hussein’s regime, has become a free-fly zone under the U.S. occupation. I suspect that might very much interest the Israelis, who I’m sure will be keeping a close eye on any shifts in U.S. coverage of the northern Iraq-Iran air corridor resulting from these incidents.

Second, addressing Iran’s concerns over PJAK in the same way we addressed those of Turkey over the PKK could serve as yet another low-cost point of U.S.-Iranian engagement. The refusal to do so is a holdover policy from the Bush administration that keeps the powder dry while creating sparks all around it.

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