- 8 July 2007: Washington Post
- The Next Battle in Iraq? (Op-Ed)
- 30 July 2007: Washington Post
- U.S. says working with Turkey to solve PKK "problem"
- 30 July 2007: Washington Post
- Bush's Turkish Gamble (Op-Ed)
- 31 July 2007: Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report
- The Geopolitics of Turkey
- 3 August 2007: Scripps Howard News Service
- Fast-forwarding to a better story line in the Middle East
- 4 August 2007: BBC
- New Turkish parliament sworn in
- 6 August 2007: Washington Post
- Turkey to Warn Iraq on Rebel Sanctuaries
- 7 August 2007: BBC
- Iraq vows to oust Kurdish rebels
- 7 August 2007: BBC
- Iraq power system 'near collapse'
- Thomas P.M. Barnett Weblog
- 5 August 2007: This week's column
- 6 August 2007: Kurdistan: Bird in the hand or three in the bush?
- Enterprise Resilience Management Blog
- 11 May 2007: Resilience in Kurdistan
- 14 May 2007: 3 days in Iraq from the Syrian/Turkish border to the Iranian border
- 16 May 2007: Lessons from the Edge of Globalization...
- 3 August 2007: Probing the Edges of Globalization
- 6 August 2007: Lessons from the Edge of Globalization: Part 2, Day 1
A new Turkish parliament was sworn in this past weekend with twenty "pro-Kurdish" deputies, the first to represent that ethnic fraction of Turkey since 1991. These deputies, from the Democratic Society Party (DTP), have said that they favor reconciliation and a peaceful solution to the decades-old Kurdish separatist conflict, in which the PKK rebels lay claim to approximately the eastern third of the country. This hopeful note from the recent elections in Turkey follows on recent suggestions that the country may be leaning away from its secular political base to embrace Islam, indicated by a strengthened position for the Muslim Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the parliament and that party's primary roles: (1) selection of the new Turkish president, and apparently (2) agree with the Turkish military leadership that "the time has come to move against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by its Kurdish initials, PKK, in its bases in the mountains of northern Iraq" (see 6 August 2007 Washington Post story).
In a column this past weekend by Tom Barnett, one of my favorite authors and a specialist on the strategic future of pretty much the entire world, he offered one possible (and mostly "positive thought") view for the Middle East about year from now (see Scripps Howard News Service, listed above). His vision included the following:
"Meanwhile, roughly 20,000 U.S. troops have shifted to Kurdistan. Following Kirkuk's contested vote to join the Kurdistan Regional Government in late 2007, the Turkish military invades northern Iraq to root out strongholds of the Kurdistan Workers Party insurgency. America submits to the U.N.-mandated regional security dialogue led by super-empowered envoy Tony Blair in exchange for the great powers' acceptance of our bases in Kurdistan, which simultaneously ensures its quasi-independence while purposefully dampening its magnetism for separatist movements in Syria, Turkey and Iran."
I should note here that Mr. Barnett works directly with Stephen DeAngelis at their company, Enterra Solutions. Mr. DeAngelis writes for the Enterprise Resilience Management blog, from which several posts on their effort toward "Development-In-A-Box" application in Iraqi Kurdistan are listed above. For the record, in my own e-mail exchange with Mr. Barnett a couple weeks ago he declined to disclose any details at all on how "Development-In-A-Box" works or what they are doing in Iraq, either in general or specifically related to water and other natural resources. It's proprietary, and sensitive, and that's cool with me--the reader knows now that anything I have to say about it is based entirely on what I can find in Mr. Barnett's hints and Mr. DeAngelis' posts, and in the open-source media of course.
Members of the PKK, a group that goes by other names and has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US State Department, have been fighting for their independence from the Turkish government since about 1983. According to news reports, that conflict has claimed more than 30,000 lives, and members of the PKK have been seeking refuge from Turkish pursuit in northern Iraq. Turkey has been threatening to pursue the PKK insurgents who are hiding in Iraq. Though I'm all against terrorism and its ideologies, I have a couple of problems with this scenario.
First, how in the world will the US military decide to allow independent Turkish incursions across the border into Kurdistan, no matter the purpose? Wouldn't the US military rather say "hold on, we think of them as terrorists too, so to maintain the integrity of our GWOT as well as Iraq's borders, we'll find them for you our way and send them over"? Second, how is the Turkish military going to tell one Kurd from another? I would guess it's not like finding Arab members of al Qaeda hiding out in Pakistan, where they probably stand out like sore thumbs in public, so they stick to their mountain caves. My point here is that the search for PKK among their peaceful, progressive Iraqi brethren must not lead to the indiscriminate detainment of innocent civilians, by the US or its ally Turkey, or the US will have shot itself in yet another foot after all the blowback over Guantanamo, Abu, secret renditions, etc. In the end, it's the US that would allow Turkish incursions and participation in the PKK hunt, not a unilateral decision on Turkey's part, and so the US will take on the majority of the decisions and responsibilities. According to Mr. DeAngelis, Iraqi Kurdistan has moved on to post-conflict reconstruction and development, and both the US military and administration are certainly not going to let an ally go rifling around in what is arguably the most positive outcome of the Iraq War.
Consider also that when the PKK get to Iraq, they're no longer able to do violence against the Turkish government, and so the long-standing US protection of Iraqi Kurdistan offers their only asylum. So finally, we can't expect the PKK to give themselves up on their own. According to Mr. Barnett, the choice is clear: "the Iraqi Kurds must give up the PKK inside their territory." This is where, in Mr. Friedman's terms, the Lexus meets the Olive Tree. Will the Iraqi Kurds give up their Turkish brethren to save themselves? Not if they want to be able to trust and depend on each other later, when it's time to elect a government and build a nation, whatever geographical area that covers. Better to suffer suspicion as a group than death as an individual, right? For the PKK, it will be tough enough to leave behind their homes in Turkey, but they just need to realize that their violence is not leading to any tipping points soon, and there will remain plenty of peaceful Kurds in Turkey who may be able to bring about their desired changes over the long term, hence willful participation by Kurdish parties in the most recent Turkish elections.
Certainly, we need to trust our allies in the Fertile Crescent, among whom we have been able to count (for numerous and widely varied reasons) Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the Iraqi Kurds. We can also now count among the allies of America's strategic interests those commercial endeavors, such as Enterra Solutions and its "Development-In-A-Box," that look toward partnership-based sustainable development in the region and not to simple resource (i.e. oil) extraction, the burgeoning industry in private security, and just generally overbilling the feds. However, we can only trust an ally as far as their own national security activities meet our own needs. So now, "the Turkish military invades northern Iraq"? If Mr. Barnett's vision is anything like what may actually play out in that area, then we really need to convince the responsible parties to hold back on all the shooting while we work out some international agreements on the control and distribution of natural resources.
Now, I'm certainly not a policy expert or a foreign affairs specialist or even a strategist, especially on the grand scale that Mr. Barnett claims as home turf, so why do I bring up these issues on a hydrology blog? Because I think a coherent focus on water resources is one way to help shrink the Gap, because American defense and security are deeply invested in the outcome of the Iraq War, because one of my interests is OSINT and "connecting the dots," and because I think I see things happening in and around Kurdistan that seem strange and maybe just a little out of control. Bear with me here...
An independent Iraqi Kurdistan is just one piece of that big ethnic puzzle that is Southwest Asia. Kurds also reside in much of eastern Turkey, northeastern parts of Syria, and along the mountain ranges that form the Turkey-Iran and Iraq-Iran borders. There is a map of ethnic Kurdistan on Wikipedia, if you want to see the full scope of this area we're talking about. In these areas that the Kurds claim as homeland, what can we find to support a recognized independence movement and a nascent government with self-supporting, trade-worthy national infrastructure? Oil of course, and some of the last exploitable forests in the region, and probably some minerals too, but also water. Lots of water, and in strategic places too.
Ethnic Kurdistan is mountainous, and from these mountains come two of the most important rivers in western Asia. Trace the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and their tributaries from their confluence in southeastern Iraq, and you'll find that much of their watershed area overlaps with ethnic Kurdistan. The Tigris River, the primary water source and sanitation outfall for the city of Baghdad, has its headwaters in the mountains of eastern Turkey. The Tigris is a transboundary river, flowing through Turkey and along the Syrian border and then through Iraq, eventually merging with the Euphrates and then forming the border between Iraq and Iran before flowing into the Persian Gulf. Here's a map of the Tigris-Euphrates watershed area (light area) by Wikipedia contributor Karl Musser, showing the extent of influence for this river system:
In the vicinity of the Tigris headwaters is the brackish Lake Van, from which irrigation canals support one of the largest contiguous agricultural areas in the Middle East. Lake Van, however, is a terminal lake, and may go the way of the Aral Sea if not properly managed for salinity and agricultural runoff contaminants. There are lessons there to be learned from history and analogy, and one hopes that the Kurds may eventually succeed where Turkish state programs have shown little progress.
The Euphrates River is far more contested, however. The Euphrates River headwaters occur farther into the Turkish interior, outside of ethnic Kurdish territory, but flow through much of that territory before meeting the Ataturk Dam and irrigating, by tunnel, the extensive cotton and grain fields of the Harran Plain. Both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are controlled extensively for both irrigation and hydroelectric power in eastern Turkey under the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). Once of the most controversial aspects of the Turkish effort was construction of a dam immediately upstream of the Euphrates' crossing into Syria, in which the river is also extensively controlled and employed for cotton irrigation.
The Euphrates eventually crosses from Syria into Iraq, provides for more irrigation in the southern provinces, and flows through an extensive alluvial plain along which the fabled Tigris-Euphrates salt marshes occur. Around 1994, more than half of the marshes were drained and destroyed by Saddam Hussein's regime in order to exert greater control over the indigenous Ma'daan, or Shi'a Muslim Marsh Arabs, during which time numerous plant and animal species dependent on the brackish ecosystem disappeared entirely.
Ethnic Kurdistan holds in its hands the keys to water security in a large portion of the Middle East. The supplies of water to the people of the region, sanitation, irrigation, power production, and depleted ecosystems all fall within the responsibilities of both Iraqi, and ethnic, Kurds who push for responsibility and independence. While Turkey has made significant progress in infrastructure and in agricultural planning, most areas in Iraq are just beginning their course of post-conflict reconstruction, and must begin to manage their water resources with the end in mind: sustainability.
Iraqi Kurdistan reaches for sustainability in both independence and government, and at the same time must not neglect the sustainability of its most vital natural resource. Its success in international relations with its neighbors, to hold off Turkish military incursions, to assuage the Syrians (and maybe even the Turks) that Kurds in their country need not rise up in a movement for independence, and to deal prosperously with whatever government eventually arises in Baghdad, may be foretold from how the Kurdish people develop one of their most basic necessities, the water on which Kurdistan's people, agriculture, industry, and economy will depend.