U.S., Turkish contacts unnerve Kurds

Azzaman, July 27 – Iraqi Kurds, who have set up a semi-independent state in the north, are wary that instability in the Middle East will encourage Ankara to mount cross border operations in pursuit of its own Kurdish guerrillas.

The Turkish government has been citing the current crisis in Lebanon sparked by a cross-border attack by rebels from the Lebanese guerrilla group, Hizbollah, as a pretext to conduct its own war against Turkish Kurds.

Turkish officials say Kurdish rebels known as PKK have killed at least 15 Turkish troops in the past few days through cross-border attacks from inside Iraq and have escalated their operations.

So far the U.S. is reluctant to give Ankara the green-light to conduct cross-border attacks to flush out the rebels.

However, Ankara has made it clear to Washington that its patience is running thin and has began bombing northern Iraq despite U.S. warnings.

The shelling has shocked Kurdish leaders, particularly the current regional president Massoud Barzani who has called for the formation of a new Kurdish army to defend the Kurdish semi-independent state.

Turkish Kurdish guerrillas have bases inside Iraq and are reported to be gathering strength and preparing for more attacks on Turkish targets.

Barzani, whose fighters have fought alongside Turkish troops against ethnic Turkish Kurds, said a Kurdish army was necessary to "fend off attacks by parties with covetous intentions on the region."

He did not specify what parties he had in mind, but analysts believe the Kurdish leader was indirectly referring to the possibility of Turkey mounting a major offensive to flush out anti-Ankara rebels.

The Kurds have two major militia groups, one loyal to Barzani and the other to Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi President.

In mid-1990s the two groups fought each other, battled Turkish Kurdish rebels and occasionally attacked Iraqi army units of the former President Saddam Hussein.

Barzani’s call for a new Kurdish army comes as the Iraqi government is trying to disband all Iraqi militia groups, blamed for the current upsurge in sectarian and ethnic violence.

The call is likely to complicate U.S. and Iraqi government’s efforts to have the nascent Iraqi army and police force establish their authority over the country.