On Thursday, thousands of Turkish troops, backed by air support, launched the largest cross-border ground offensive into Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The Turkish government accuses the Kurdistan Worker’s party, or PKK, of using northern Iraq as a base to launch attacks inside Turkey. Turkey has been relying largely on intelligence and weapons provided by Washington. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Turkey sent military reinforcements into northern Iraq Sunday as clashes with militants from the Kurdistan Worker’s party, or PKK, continued for a fourth day.
On Thursday, thousands of Turkish troops, backed by air support, launched the largest cross-border ground offensive into Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The Turkish government accuses the PKK of using northern Iraq as a base to launch attacks inside Turkey.
Since the major air and ground offensive began, Turkey says over a hundred Kurdish militants have been killed, along with fifteen Turkish soldiers. The PKK claims forty-seven Turkish soldiers have been killed. The PKK also said its fighters brought down a Turkish army helicopter Sunday.
There have been no confirmed reports of civilian casualties, but residents in villages near the border say they’re being targeted in Turkish air strikes and artillery barrages.
BORDER RESIDENT: [translated] We ran away, as we were afraid of bombing. We left all our belongings. We left everything behind and ran away. We left our sheep and farms. We lost everything.
AMY GOODMAN: Washington has sanctioned limited cross-border operations by Turkey against the PKK, which it considers to be a terrorist organization and has been described by President Bush as a “common enemy.” The US has provided the Turkish military with intelligence on the militants’ positions and opened up Iraq’s airspace to facilitate bombing raids. Turkey says the military offensive is justified. This is the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.
PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: [translated] We are struggling with a dividing terrorist organization which aims to harm our unity and togetherness, to isolate our society. Everybody should know we don’t have any other purpose other than to secure our citizens’ life and property.
AMY GOODMAN: Iraq’s government has criticized the offensive and said it had only had been informed of the Turkish incursion “in the last minute” and did not approve it. Meanwhile, the leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan said any targeting of Kurdish civilians would result in “massive resistance” by its Peshmerga forces. This is, well, who the Kurds call their prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani.
PRIME MINISTER NECHIRVAN BARZANI: [translated] There is no doubt, and it is a natural issue, that we don’t want to fight anyone. But if they fight us, we will defend ourselves.
AMY GOODMAN: Kani Xulam is the director of the American Kurdish Information Network, joining us from Santa Monica, California. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
KANI XULAM: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what is happening?
KANI XULAM: I think what’s happening is that the Iraqi regional government is becoming stronger and stronger as every day goes by, and it has caused insomnia in Ankora, in Damascus, in Tehran. And Ankora, being an ally of the US, has decided to undermine this experiment, this emerging government, and PKK is used as an excuse. PKK has been fighting the Turkish government since 1984. It’s a guerrilla force. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. This incursion will get Turkey nothing.
The unity that the government of Turkey, the prime minister of Turkey is talking about has nothing to do with the reality. We are talking about fifteen to twenty million Kurds who live inside the borders of Turkey who have been denied the most basic human rights, who cannot speak their language properly, who cannot name their children with Kurdish names. There’s a cultural genocide going on against them. And so, this is just basically an excuse to undermine the government inside Iraqi Kurdistan, as opposed to addressing the issue of the Kurds inside Turkey.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the US role in regards to Kurdistan, northern Iraq and Turkey right now, the Turkish invasion of northern Iraq?
KANI XULAM: The US role has unfortunately become — has been pretty duplicitous, if you will. The government — the Iraqi Kurdish regional government has lately, for example, said that it has control over its natural resources because of the constitution that was put together in 2004, and that has caused consternation in Baghdad and it has caused consternation in Turkey. And we’re specifically talking about the oil fields around Kirkuk, at one time a predominantly Kurdish city. And Saddam, when he was in power, he did a lot of ethnic cleansing and got rid of the Kurds and played with the demography of the city, changed its name from Kirkuk to Al-Tameem. And so, that has been another issue in the background. And the US government basically wants the central government in Baghdad to become strong. It doesn’t like the Kurds to assert their regional authority. And Turkey is too happy to do US’s dirty work and go into this region and undermine the emerging government, as I alluded to it earlier.
AMY GOODMAN: The Turkish government was outraged when a resolution was passed around the Armenian Genocide in the US Congress. That — can you talk about the relation of that to the Turkish invasion of northern Iraq?
KANI XULAM: Well, there’s that issue, and also there’s another issue called headscarf issue. There’s another issue, for example, called the alphabet issue. Three letters of the alphabet, for example, do not exist in the Turkish language — q, w and x — and they exist in the Kurdish language. Turks — Kurds want to use, you know, their language, their alphabet, but because these three letters exist in the Kurdish language and they do not exist in the Turkish language, it has been a source of friction, because the EU has urged Turkey to accommodate the Kurds, and Turkish bigoted nationalists and the generals do not want to accommodate the Kurds.
Then there is the Armenian issue. At the turn of the century, when the Armenians were slaughtered by the Ottoman troika: Enver Pasha, Talat Pasha and Djemal Pasha. And Turkey, to this day, doesn’t want to address that issue, doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that, you know, defenseless populations were subjected to pogroms, were sent to Syria to die in the desert. And that issue is a vexing issue between US and Turkey, too, because there is a sizeable Armenian diaspora community in the US trying to pass a resolution, urging the government of Turkey to come to terms with its past, that it’s committed this crime, its government, its soldiers, its very — you know, the whole government was engaged in that.
AMY GOODMAN: Kani Xulam, why an attack now?
KANI XULAM: The attack now, I think, has to do with the emerging Kurdish government. It has really nothing to do with the PKK. Usually the Turkish government waits for early spring, when the snow melts, and with this attack, it has only — what it has done is destroy a couple of bridges, what it has done is destroy a couple of the villages, and the fires are up in the mountains, are in the caves. There’s no specific address. It’s to draw the attention to the fact that the Kurdistan regional government is becoming stronger and what to do to undermine it.
AMY GOODMAN: And the weapons that the Turkish military is using, where are they from?
KANI XULAM: 82 percent of the weapons that the Turkish government uses have “Made in the USA” insignia on them. If US did not give the green light, Turkey has no power to engage in this incursion. It is very, very unfortunate that the US government, on the one hand, gives support supposedly to the Kurds inside Iraq to get on their feet, and, on the other hand, the same Kurds above the border, artificial borders that were put together by the British and the French, gives the green light to Turkey to attack them and to the degree that — to cross an international border, which we Kurds do not recognize, and attack the Kurds inside Iraq, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Kani Xulam, I want to thank you very much for being with us, director of the American Kurdish Information Network.