War in Kurdistan?

Iran is shelling northern Iraq and massing forces along with Turkey to contain the Kurds, the Guardian reports.

Turkey and Iran have dispatched tanks, artillery and thousands of troops to their frontiers with Iraq during the past few weeks in what appears to be a coordinated effort to disrupt the activities of Kurdish rebel bases. Scores of Kurds have fled their homes in the northern frontier region after four days of shelling by the Iranian army. Local officials said Turkey had also fired a number of shells into Iraqi territory.


Although fighting between Turkish security forces and PKK militants is nowhere near the scale of the 1980s and 90s – which accounted for the loss of more than 30,000 mostly Turkish Kurdish lives- at least 15 Turkish police officers have died in clashes. The PKK’s sister party in Iran, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (Pejak), has stepped up activities against security targets in Kurdish regions. Yesterday, Kurdish media said eight Iranian troops were killed.


Frustrated by the reluctance of the US and the government in Baghdad to crack down on the PKK bases inside Iraq, Turkish generals have hinted they are considering a large-scale military operation across the border. They are said to be sharing intelligence about Kurdish rebel movements with their Iranian counterparts. “We would not hesitate to take every kind of measures when our security is at stake,” Abdullah Gul, the Turkish foreign minister, said last week.

There has been sporadic shelling of the region since May but officials worry that concerted military action against PKK bases in Iraq could alienate Iraqi Kurds and destabilise their self-rule region, one of few post-invasion success stories. Some analysts say Ankara and Tehran may be trying to pressure Iraq’s Kurds, afraid that their de facto independent region would encourage their own Kurdish population.

Josh Marshall observes, “The Israelis have deep ties to the Kurds. And they’d probably like to help them tangle with the Iranians. But Israel also has a key alliance with Turkey. So that might present some problems.” (He also mischaracterizes David Frum as advocating that we “withdraw to the Kurdish north and make our stand there.” The closest he comes to that is to quote Peter Galbraith‘s call for “placing a small ‘over the horizon’ force in Kurdistan,” which Frum considers a “second best” option.)

Obviously, this could be a messy situation. It’s interesting that this has been going on four days and this is the first I’ve heard about it. Then again, sporadic shooting across the ephemeral borders of “Kurdistan” is rather commonplace.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    The shelling has been going on off and on for months. I’ve been rather surprised it received so little attention.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Here’s an example of such a report from back in May.

  3. malcontent says:

    The fact that there is a kurdistan in the first place is a glaring reminder of how much of a failure this war has been. Whatever happened to a unified democratic iraq?

    Expect the second civil war in iraq to be shia vs kurd. The kurds don’t stand a chance without the aid or israel and US and time will tell if they step up to save their favorite terrorist organizations especially if Turkey moves (and they will).

  4. James Joyner says:

    malcontent: There has been a “Kurdistan” for generations. It’s an irredentist movement split between the unnatural borders of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. The war didn’t create it, although it did free them from the yoke of Saddam.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Let me second James’s riposte: malcontents’s observation is poorly informed. There has been a Kurdish nationalist movement for a century. They were promised a state of their own under the Treaty of Sevres in 1920.

    The PKK has existed for more than 20 years and don’t receive or need our support. Most of their financing comes from donations from the Kurdish diaspora population in Europe and “taxes” i.e. extortion, theft, and other crime.

  6. Trest says:

    Obviously, this could be a messy situation. It’s interesting that this has been going on four days and this is the first I’ve heard about it. Then again, sporadic shooting across the ephemeral borders of “Kurdistan” is rather commonplace.

    This is a perfect justification for us to expand democracy in the Middle East. If Iran is shelling our territory we need to respond with a shock and awe air campaign. A few shells on Ahmednejad’s Presidential Palace would tip the scales in Iran, big time. There are numerous Iranian exiles in the US who are committed to democracy, like the Shah’s son, who we can set up in an interim government.

    It might be a little early now to get the Iranians, but if we lauch something in late-October, it might be useful enough to cause a surge in patriotism and we can make some gains in Congress, further weakening the Defeat-ocrats.

    A vote for a Democrat is a vote for Al Quaeda and Iran.

  7. spencer says:

    Trest — what is the difference between what you want to do in Iran and what we did in Iraq four year ago?

    Haven’t learned anything have you?

  8. DC Loser says:

    Spencer – Big difference between Iraq and Iran is that they have a helluva lot more people in Iran and they fight a lot better, if Hezbollah’s performance against the IDF was any indication. And they’ve been waiting for us to go over from next door for 3+ years now, so they’ve had time to prepare.

  9. Richard Gardner says:

    And now we have Turkey forcing down Iraninan planes


    I’m still awaiting Aug 22, and hope it is nothing.

  10. And now you have your ally, Turkey, arming and resupplying Hezbollah for Iran.

    Firat News

    Obviously the US knows about this and approves, but don’t hold your breath until this little hypocrisy makes it into Western news.