By Sami Moubayed

Asia Times Online 27Ak01.html
March 23 3009
Hong Kong

DAMASCUS - A historical run-through of non-state players in the
Middle East concludes that they were never intended to win, just
achieve the short- and long-term objectives of their patrons.

In 1974, former United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger
encouraged Iraqi Kurds to rebel, for example, to drain the energy of
the Iraqi army and divert Baghdad's attention from supporting Syria's
"steadfastness front" against Israel.

Kissinger fanned the flames of conflict in Iraq and was generous
with the Kurds, prompting Kurdish leader Mustapha Barazni to send
him expensive rugs as a token of appreciation, and a gold necklace
for his bride on the occasion of Kissinger's marriage in March 1974.

This incident, among Kissinger's numerous endeavors, was revealed
during the Watergate investigations in 1976, in what became known
as the Pike Report. The testimony said that Kissinger had armed
and financed the Kurds to dissuade Iraq from "adventurism", such as
coming to the aid of Syria. The report added, "Our clients, who were
encouraged to fight, were not told of this policy."

>From where Kissinger saw things, the Kurds were never intended to win,
only weaken Iraq.

This week, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) suffered a similar
trade-off, when Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Baghdad and
met with Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani (the grandson of
Mustapha). The latter promised that the Kurdistan-based PKK would lay
down its arms completely - thereby ending a state of war with Turkey
that has lasted for 30 years - in exchange for a full pardon for all
Kurds who had fought the Turkish government.

Clearly, Barzani had not consulted with the PKK before making Gul his
offer. The PKK immediately snapped back, saying that Barzani's offer
was "wrong, because it benefits nobody but enemies of the Kurdish
people". Barzani - whose meeting with Gul was a remarkable event
in its own right - added that he would not allow non-state players,
like the PKK, to use the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan as a base to
launch war against Turkey.

Gul said, "I told him [Barzani] explicitly that the PKK terrorist
organization and their camps are ... in your region [and] you need to
take a clear position against them. Once the PKK is eliminated, there
are no bounds to what is possible: you are our neighbors and kinsmen."

For his part, Barzani said, "We are determined, and we confirm again
our territory will not be used to attack Turkey." Falling in line
with the "new mood" in relations between Turkey, Iraq and the Kurds,
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, recently said that creating
an independent Kurdish state - his dream for over five decades - was
"impossible", describing it as a "dream in poems".

His comments were carried in the Turkish daily Sabah. "I tell this to
my Turkish brothers: don't be afraid of Kurdish independence. To stay
within Iraq is in the interest of the Kurdish people in an economic,
cultural and political sense."

Coming from Talabani, the Kurdish version of former Palestinian leader
Yasser Arafat, this was a bold statement, reflecting wisdom that
comes with age, and a strong understanding of what can be achieved
in real life and what has to remain nothing but an inspiring dream.

Twenty years ago, it would have been impossible for Talabani to
make such a thundering statement. Barzani grabbed the cue from the
veteran Kurdish leader, who is on the verge of political retirement,
and offered the PKK on a gold platter to Gul. Had it not been for
Talabani's blessing, the PKK would not currently be based in Iraqi

This is the first time that a Turkish president has visited Iraq in
33 years, and the first time ever that one has met with an official
from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which has had de facto
autonomy in northern Iraq since 1991.

Not only has the KRG ignited the ambitions of Turkish Kurds, who want
to carve 50% of their aspired state out of Turkey, but also it has
harbored warriors of the PKK, under the watchful eye of the Barzani
clan, since 2003.

The PKK was worried - with due right - by the Barzani initiative and
Talabani's words, believing that some kind of deal was being hatched
between big players in the Middle East at their expense.

A PKK commander, Haval Roze, barked out, "No one has the right to tell
the PKK fighters to lay down their weapons or leave the territory
of Kurdistan." Roze seemed to forget that the only reason the PKK
was there in the first place was because Barzani, and his uncle,
President Maasoud Barzani, had given them sanctuary after 2003. If
it desires, the KRG can also get them to leave.

Although the US labels the PKK a terrorist organization, it refuses
to crack down on their cells in northern Iraq, knowing from the
al-Qaeda experience how difficult it is to trace and combat a non-state
player. It had too much on its hands already, combating al-Qaeda and
ex-Ba'athists in different parts of Iraq, to worry about the PKK.

When the militia's terrorist acts continued, becoming unbearable to
the Turkish government, Ankara responded with force in 2007-2008,
authorizing attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan and forcing the Americans to
cooperate with their long-time North Atlantic Treaty Organization
ally in what the Turks describe is part of the global "war on terror".

Blamed for the death of no less than 40,000 Turks since 1984, Ankara
insists that the PKK is no different from al-Qaeda. In January,
Turkey, Iraq and the US agreed to set up a command center in north
Iraq to coordinate efforts against the PKK. Iraqi Prime Minister
Nuri al-Maliki, who initially humored the Kurds to keep his shaky
coalition cabinet floating in Baghdad, was forced to follow suit,
also supporting the Turkish effort.

Three things are new:

Gul's willingness to walk that extra mile to defuse long-lasting
Turkish problems with the Kurds.

Talabani's statements on Kurdish nationhood.

The KRG's willingness to abandon the PKK in exchange for a peaceful
relationship with Turkey.

Gul's opponents grabbed at the opportunity to criticize him after the
Iraq visit for using the word "Kurdistan", which is taboo in official
Turkish discourse. Talabani's allies criticized him for putting dampers
on a dream he had dedicated his life to achieving. Both presidents
gave reasonable answers.

Talabani said that real politics are one thing, and dreams are
another. Gul reasonably argued that this was the region's official
name, as stated by the Iraqi constitution, adding, "What shall I
say? We do not refuse to say Macedonia because Greece refuses to
do so."

Gul had made headlines in September 2008 by paying a landmark visit
to Armenia, again, trying to mend broken fences between Turkey and the
Armenians. His visit was at the invitation of his Armenian counterpart
Serzh Sarkisyan to watch an Armenia-Turkey football match in the
European Cup, although the countries do not have diplomatic relations.

On March 24, Turkey announced that it was planning to launch
Armenian-language radio programming, for two to three hours a day,
similar to a Kurdish program that started in 2008 and a Kurdish TV
channel, which launched this January. More friends for Turkey, and
fewer enemies, seemed to be the motto of the Turkish president.

US President Barack Obama arrives in Turkey on April 5 to acknowledge
the importance of Turkey as America's ally in the region, an economic
and political heavyweight that follows a moderate Islam, which needs
to be copied throughout the Muslim world.

That might explain why Talabani and Barzani are both over-anxious to be
on the good side of Turkey. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has
already made the trip to Ankara, and so has Obama's Middle East envoy,
George Mitchell. Gone are the days of US anger at Turkey's refusal to
allow the US to use its territories to launch war against Iraq in 2003.

Also gone is America's fury at Ankara for hosting Hamas leaders like
Khaled Meshaal, or its loud words criticizing Israel at Davos last
January. Turkey has already announced that it is willing to mediate
between Iran and the US, after having mediated indirect talks in 2008
between Syria and Israel.

All parties reason that Turkey cannot be sidelined from any
solutions to the region, and it will be Obama's strategic partner in
2009-2013. It would be madness to maintain sour relations with Ankara,
and if the price is the PKK, then so be it.