Washington, July 7: A myth that northern Iraq was peaceful enough for Indian troops to perform a cakewalk in the post-Saddam Hussein era was rudely shattered this weekend when tensions inherent in the ethnic complexities of the region exploded into a major crisis between Turkey and the US.
The Americans on Friday arrested 11 Turkish soldiers in the northern Iraqi town of Sulaimaniya, based on intelligence reports that they were plotting to assassinate the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk.
Meanwhile, a grenade was fired yesterday at the offices of the International Organisation for Migration in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The incident came 10 days after explosions damaged a key pipeline supplying oil from fields in Kirkuk to refineries.
Because attention has been so much focused on attacks on occupation forces in Baghdad and its neighbourhood, it has been lost on governments and the media that it was the sixth such act of sabotage in a fortnight.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to have telephone negotiations later today with US Vice-President Dick Cheney on the crisis created by the arrest of Ankara’s troops.
Erdogan presided over an emergency meeting of military and government officials last night as Turkey erupted in angry protests over the incident.
The developments will be watched closely in South Block which has invested heavily in recent years in improving India’s relations with Turkey, an ally of Pakistan of long standing.
The arrests, although made by the Americans, took place in an area of northern Iraq controlled by Jalal Talebani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
R.M. Abhyankar, secretary in the ministry of external affairs, last week met Talebani inside Iraq. It is one of the region’s open secrets that notwithstanding Iraq’s sovereignty, hundreds of Turkish troops have been operating in northern Iraq for at least a decade putting down a Kurdish separatist struggle.
What India will have to decide if it deploys troops in northern Iraq is whether New Delhi wants its forces to be sucked into this messy situation. What the decision-makers in New Delhi will have to bear in mind is also that according to conservative estimates, this conflict has cost Turkey 30,000 soldiers.
With more deadly attacks on US forces and their Iraqi “collaborators”, the Americans are reluctantly admitting that resistance to their occupation is becoming more organised and focussed.
It is inevitable that if this trend continues, violence is certain to spread to northern Iraq, which is being sold by the Americans to New Delhi as a “peaceful” and “trouble-free” region of Iraq. Those resisting the US-led occupation, it is now widely acknowledged, will set their sights on sabotaging oil installations in northern Iraq, especially around Kirkuk.
The occupation administration had hoped to boost Iraq’s oil output to one million barrels per day by mid-July, but that target is very much in doubt now. About half of this figure was to come from northern oil fields.
Disruption of oil output is an attractive proposition for those resisting the US-led occupation because it can cumulatively damage gas, fuel and power supplies, fuelling discontent and civil strife across Iraq.
Hamid Abdeljaber, deputy spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq, said “international and local staff were moved from the office to a more secure zone”, following yesterday’s grenade attack on the Mosul headquarters of the International Organisation for Migration.
A US soldier was shot and critically wounded at Baghdad University today in the latest in a series of attacks on the occupying forces in Iraq.
Students said the victim had been inside the university campus in the south of the city, and a US military helicopter had evacuated him. US troops sealed off the campus.