Turkey, Iraq Get U.S. Help to Fight Kurdish Rebels

The Bush administration has tapped Joseph Ralston, a former NATO commander, to help Turkey and Iraq fight Kurdish rebels along their border. Michael Rubin, a former advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, tells Alex Chadwick that the appointment is a stopgap measure that provides too little help, too late.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, trying to rebuild Hancock County, Mississippi with little money.

CHADWICK: First, the Bush administration has named a high level envoy to try to tame Kurdish extremism in Turkey and Iraq. The envoy is a retired Air Force general, Joseph Ralston. This follows a series of bombings in Turkey by a Kurdish militant group.

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, this country helped create an autonomous region that provided a safe haven for the Kurdish people in northern Iraq. Washington hoped to build the kind of democratic and friendly government there that it wants to see throughout the Mid East. There are many complications.

Michael Rubin is an expert on the region. He's worked with a coalition provisional authority in Baghdad. He's now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and he lectures frequently at Yeditepe University in Istanbul. He joins us from Washington. Michael, what do you think Gen. Ralston can do here?

Mr. MICHAEL RUBIN (Scholar, American Enterprise Institute): Gen. Ralston - his appointment is very symbolic. The Turks have been asking for a special coordinator for some time. Unfortunately, as sincere as Gen. Ralston may be - I'm not sure that he can really be too effective. In a way, it's almost like he's being set up to fail.

CHADWICK: Well, just note that these bombings along the Turkish coast are a real threat. There is a real burgeoning tourism economy for Turkey. So Kurdish radicals - some of whom have claimed responsibility, I believe, for these bombings - it's really a target that they are choosing here. And the whole question of is there going to be an independent Kurdish state on the Turkish border, that's something that is quite threatening for Turkey. How would you say the kind of burgeoning Kurdistan in Northern Iraq - how is it doing now?

Mr. RUBIN: Well, you're right to underline the linkage between the bombings on Turkeys Mediterranean coast and what's going on in Iraq. While these bombings have hit the headlines, what most people don't realize - unless they read Turkish papers - is that there's been a concerted bombing campaign and terrorist campaign which the Turks have blamed on the PKK terrorist group and some of its offshoots for much of the last year. In fact, Turkish military casualty rates in Turkey are about the same as what American casualty rates are in Iraq over the last several weeks.

Now, Turkey says hey, look. There's a real problem with Iraq because many of these Kurdish militants are basing themselves in Iraq under the protection of this safe haven/autonomous zone.

CHADWICK: I'll note that the PKK has denied responsibility for these particular bombings and says it condemns them. But nonetheless, it's a widely held belief that the PKK is able to exist in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq - that it's a protected entity there and that's it making trouble for Turkey in the large Kurdish population in eastern Turkey. That's what the Turks are worried about.

Mr. RUBIN: Right. And specifically, when you talk to both Turkish security officers and Turkish journalists that follow this issue - it's not so much that these militants are coming across the border from Iraq into Turkey, but they are smuggling high explosives. And Turkey has had some problem recently with shaped charges and mines and improvised explosive devices not too dissimilar from with the United States has been facing in Iraq.

CHADWICK: Well, this situation has been going on for quite a while. It doesn't seem to be getting any better. And you wonder - Gen. Ralston, what are you going to say to the Turks when you get over there?

Mr. RUBIN: Well, you condemn terrorism. The question that the Turks have is whether that's enough. You know, if we're going to be effective on this, the Turks are probably looking for someone - with all due respect to General Ralston - like the U.S. National Security Advisor to take over the role of special coordinator on this problem.

Because if there is going to be a solution from the Turkish standpoint, it's going to be one that has enough diplomatic leverage to pressure the Iraqi Kurds to deny the PKK safe haven. And it's going to have to be someone that has enough military leverage to tell the U.S. generals in Iraq you know, it's really important that we shut down this border trade, and we shut down these camps on Condyle(ph) mountain and elsewhere.

CHADWICK: Michael, what do you think this Kurdistan experience - taken in total - what does it tell us about our goals in the Middle East?

Mr. RUBIN: Well, the Kurd's are really becoming the test case. On one hand, they once claimed to have a successful democracy. On the other hand, it's becoming much more of a oligarchy right now with very little freedoms.

A lot of people are asking whether or not we're going to stand by our rhetoric, or - and unfortunately, they may come to the conclusion we've been cynical all along. That would be a false conclusion, but nonetheless that's something that's out there.

CHADWICK: Michael Rubin is a former advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, now a scholar at that American Enterprise Institute. Michael, thank you.

Mr. RUBIN: Thank you.

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