All is not so quiet on the Northern Front in Iraq |

All is not so quiet on the Northern Front in Iraq

Kirk Caraway
Appeal Internet editor

In a place where good news is hard to come by, the northern Kurdish-controlled area of Iraq is a success story.

While central Iraq is exploding and the south of the country simmers in anticipation of civil war, the northern part of the country has been relatively peaceful. So much so that a new public relations video has been released promoting tourism to the region, showing scenes of snow-capped mountains and children at play. Looks like the perfect vacation spot, except for the occasional car bomb.

But this could change soon, as mostly overlooked problems come boiling to the surface.

Last month, Kurdish rebels, reportedly based in Iraq, staged attacks in neighboring Turkey, killing 15. And the Turks are none too happy about these guerrillas stirring up trouble with the repressed Kurdish minority there. According to Turkish media reports, the government is making plans to attack northern Iraq to flush out these rebel factions, ala Israel’s foray against Hezbolla.

So you might want to put that vacation to Kurdistan on hold for a while,

Turkey has asked the U.S. to do something to stop these incursions, and the situation is worrisome enough that George W. Bush has been talking directly with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resolve the problem.

But this isn’t something that goes away with a phone call.

Bush doesn’t have much leverage to use here. With not enough troops to handle the violence in and around Baghdad, he is left with asking the Kurds pretty please to crack down on these rebel groups that many there consider freedom fighters.

Good luck with that.

The Kurds are the Rodney Dangerfield of ethnic groups. They have been kicked around by just about every country in the region, from Turkey to Syria to Iran. The Turks hate them so much that they made the Kurdish language illegal, punishable by incarceration in that country’s hellish prison system. Let’s not forget how Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds in the 1980s, back when Iraq was still getting support from the United States. And after the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. basically abandoned them when they tried to rise up against Saddam.

They may be America’s best allies in Iraq, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves that they would bend over backwards to help us out if it means giving up something they want, namely a free and independent Kurdistan.

If Turkey takes military action in northern Iraq, it could be the nudge that pushes Humpty Dumpty off the wall, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Iraq back together again.

Some might question whether it’s already broken beyond repair.

The new troubles in the north just add to the pressure on the administration to find a way to piece Iraq back together, or at least find a politically acceptable way to leave.

That pressure was evident last week as two top generals, sitting on each side of their boss Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld while testifying before congress, let loose with the “c” word – civil war. They didn’t admit that there already is a civil war going on, as is the consensus view in many places. But they said there is a danger of civil war if they cannot control the sectarian violence that is ravaging Baghdad.

The question is what can the Bush administration do to fix this mess? The stay-the-course strategy is about as effective as driving over the broken pieces again and again and expecting them to magically come together. The hope is the Iraqi military will get strong enough to stop the sectarian fighting. But it has been shown that the military is heavily infiltrated by the very same militias that are engaged in this fighting. Hoping that these troops will suddenly drop their loyalties to their tribes and religious leaders in favor of the national government ranks up there with believing in the Easter Bunny.

If any lessons can be taken out of this, it’s that there are limits to what military power can accomplish. This is an age where small groups armed with portable weapons, high explosives and modern communications can tie down even the largest armies. Short of the nuclear “Parking Lot” option, we cannot always count on military might to bring about positive political change in foreign countries.

Turkey might get a taste of this if they try to invade northern Iraq and take on the Kurdish militia. But for our sake and theirs, let’s hope they heed this lesson before then.

• Kirk Caraway is Internet editor of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at, or comment online at