March 11, 2009: Public diplomacy between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan is becoming, well, increasingly public. Turkish diplomats are visiting Irbil and the grapevine says Turkey is considering opening a consulate in that Iraqi Kurdish city. That makes a lot of sense. Turkish media estimates that 1200 Turkish companies are operating in Iraqi Kurdistan and doing around seven billion dollars a year in business. Iraqi Kurds know Turkey wants them to shut down the PKK – at the least continue to marginalize the PKK politically and ideally help Turkey arrest senior PKK leaders. Iraqi Kurdish leaders are wrestling with their own Kurdish nationalists who dream of an independent Kurdistan. They are saying that independence simply isn’t in the cards for Iraqi Kurds. Getting along with Turkey makes economic sense, too. The easiest route for the export of oil from Iraqi Kurdish fields is through Turkey.
March 10, 2009: Three PKK rebels surrendered in the town of Silopi (Sirnak province). One of the PKK members was a woman who said she had left a PKK camp in northern Iraq. Over the past two months the Turkish military has claimed that it has seen an increase in surrenders. Politics plays a role – Turkey is making political inroads with Turkish Kurds and with Iraqi Kurdistan. But so does winter. If you’re a rebel fighter in northern Iraq or southeastern Turkey and you are thinking about defecting, winter is the best time to do it. Turkish prisons may be awful but mountain camps are very cold. The Turks have also gotten smarter about prison. Low-level PKK fighters who surrender may receive amnesty.
March 8, 2009: The story has been circulating for weeks, but senior Turkish security officers now believe that a severe political rift in the PKK has turned to outright war. On February 13, two groups of PKK fighters squared off in a gunbattle in northern Iraq. What ignited the fight is up for speculation, but a Turkish military spokesman suggested it was a struggle for control of the PKK in northern Iraq. The firefight left 20 dead and perhaps 20 wounded – which means it was a big deal. Early reports said the fight pitted supporters of a Syrian Kurdish leader against fighters loyal to PKK senior commander Murat Karayilan.
March 6, 2009: Air and artillery strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq have killed 375 PKK fighters since October 2008. Turkey estimates that there are 4000 to 5000 PKK fighters who use bases in northern Iraq. Turkey believes that its air raids and artillery bombardments have killed around eight percent of the PKK’s end strength in a five month period. If this is accurate, this is remarkable. Cold weather tends to limit operations, though early last year Turkey launched a winter offensive. This year it appears Turkey pursued a steady war of attrition during the winter. The air and artillery attacks of the last five months are designed to disrupt PKK plans for a spring offensive in southern Turkey.
March 2, 2009: How large is Turkey’s military presence in Iraq? An Iraqi Kurdish magazine recently claimed there are 3235 Turkish troops in Iraq deployed at 13 military bases. The 3,235 figure is reasonable, a little higher than several Western estimates (2000 to 3000) but in the ballpark. The details in the report are extraordinary. Qanimasi (in Iraq’s Dohuk area) is identified as the largest base in terms of personnel. Qanimasi is eight kilometers from the Turkish border. The biggest logistics support base is Bamarne (about 40 kilometers from the border). Pictures of the base at Bamarne have occasionally showed up on websites. The Iraqi Kurd sources say Turkey has 58 tanks inside Iraq, which also jibes with other sources which say “elements of an armored battalion” are stationed inside Iraq.
February 23, 2009: Though it was apparently in operation in January, Turkey, Iraq, and the US formally opened their “trilateral command center” in Irbil. The joint command center is supposed to coordinate intelligence and security operations against the PKK.
February 22, 2009: Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has upped the political ante in his party’s attempt to secure the support of Turkish Kurds. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) began a concerted effort several years ago to improve its standing among Turkish Kurds. Erdogan, clearly looking to elections scheduled for the end of March, is promising more investment in Turkey’s ethnic Kurdish regions. The AKP’s effort has proved to be a sharp strategic move. Erdogan wants to increase the PKK’s political isolation.