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Bombings in Turkey will add to difficulties in Iraq

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Two consecutive days of deadly bombings in Turkey are a tragedy for a nation that is desperately trying to be accepted into the Western world. Turkey is fighting institutional racism and economic protectionism in its attempt to join the EU, and it has been a vital U.S. ally for decades -- a NATO member since 1952 and a crucial partner during the Cold War. Its geography has huge strategic importance, including shared borders with Syria, Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Georgia, Greece, and Bulgaria, as well as control of the straits that connect the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, through which Russian oil passes. Turkey has a modern democracy, economy, and culture, and demonstrates that an overwhelmingly Muslim state can embrace liberalism. It has its flaws, of course, but it really is a great (and very beautiful) country and a solid ally.

It also has a problem, though, with its restive Kurdish minority, which mostly resides in the East, near the border with Iran, Iraq, and Syria. There are roughly 15 million Kurds in Turkey, representing about 20% of its population and over 50% of all Kurds in the Middle East. Many Kurds in Turkey, like their brethren in Iraq, want their own state, and Kurdish militant organizations have attacked both military and civilian targets in the past. In particular, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party, also known as Kongra-Gel), is a terrorist group committed to establishing a Kurdish state that would include territory from Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and has terrorized Turkey for years in pursuit of this goal. The PKK isn't especially popular among most Kurds, but even with relatively few members, it's a brutal and deadly bunch of thugs. It's a good bet that they're behind these latest bombings as well.

Turkey is convinced, and probably not wrongly, that the PKK is using northern Iraq as a base for terrorist operations, which have increased since the war began. While Kurds are sensitive to Turkish influence in the north, and also in Baghdad, it's unlikely that they'll seriously crack down on the PKK in the near future. This is Turkey's number one international priority, and Turkish officials are constantly pressing Iraqis on it, including just over a week ago when Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan (pronounced "Erdowan") met with Iraqi Deputy President Hashimi.

Erdogan and Hashimi also discussed presence of PKK in the north of Iraq. Hashimi said that Iraq will not allow acts that will cause uneasiness in Turkey regarding this issue. Hashimi committed to exert every type of effort to prevent such acts. Regarding Kirkuk issue, Erdogan said, "Kirkuk should have a special status. This is important for Iraq's unity."
Turkey understands that Kurdish territory has to be given special status so Kurds won't (immediately) move towards an independent state, which would create huge problems for Turkey in terms of politics and security. These latest bombings, however, will force a Turkish response that is likely to extend into northern Iraq. There are already many reports that Turkey is operating in Kurdistan, and any augmentation of that effort will worsen an already-sensitive situation in Kurdistan.

I know this is slightly below the first-tier attention (and interest) of many observers, but these kinds of under-the-radar developments have a huge impact in the daily events in Iraq, and this is another worrisome sign.

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