February 10, 1998
With Amy Goodman (AG), Juan Gonzales (JG), and Kani Xulam (KX)
AG: We have news over the last few days that Turkey’s military has sent thousands of commandos into northern Iraq. This is being denied by the Turkish government, but witnesses say about 7,000 commandos, backed by armored vehicles, together with Kurdish guides and medical teams, crossed into Iraq at the Habur border point. We’re going to talk about the significance in just a minute, but first let me say hello to Juan Gonzales, my co-host today. Juan, it’s nice to have you back in the studio.
JG: Yes, Amy, good day on this sad week, unfortunately, when the “Masters of War”, as Bob Dylan would call them, are at it again.
AG: That’s right. Things are working very quickly. You’ve returned recently from Cuba where you were covering the Pope’s visit; all that sounds like ancient history at this point! Because now, the drums are beating.
JG: Yes, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how the American people continue to react to the bombardment of press information, or social conditioning that they’re getting these days….
AG: Right now, we are joined in our Washington studio at Pacifica station WPFW by Kani Xulam, who is Director of the American Kurdish Information Network. Kani Xulam, we wanted to get your reaction to this news that witnesses say, though the Turkish government is denying it, that thousands of Turkish commandos have moved into northern Iraq.
KX: True. If the Turkish government wants to deny it, they should let the reporters go to the border region. They have blocked the area from reporters, and they are saying that they have not sent the soldiers and commandos. But they have, and the local sources, local Kurds, are reporting that they have crossed the border.
JG: Is there any sense of what their mission or their purpose would be?
KX: In 1991, when the Gulf War started, the President of Turkey [Turgut] Ozal wanted to send troops in, and at the time he would justify the sending in of troops with the quote that, “when the spoils are divided, we should be ready for them as well”. Today, there are two components of this incursion. One is, in their words, to crush the Kurdish rebellion, the Turkish Kurds who are fighting the Turkish government, and two is to create a buffer zone, to prevent refugees from coming into Turkey.
AG: Now, the history of Turkey and its relation to Kurds hasn’t been a good one. We’ve seen the bombardment of northern Iraq now for a while, with no international sanctions against Turkey for doing this. Aren’t there UN Security Council resolutions saying that this should not be done?
KX: To my knowledge, the area is a “no-fly zone”, not just for Saddam’s planes and forces, but for everybody. But when it comes to Turkey, Turkey flies in at will. So they have this double standard ongoing ever since the Gulf War.
JG: Isn’t there a potential that if Turkey does try to annex or absorb more territory, that it will be actually exacerbating the contradictions that it’s already facing in terms of Kurdish self-determination?
KX: That’s exactly what the spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said this morning, apparently in the wire reports, that Turkey will be getting into a quagmire. There are two schools in the Turkish military. One is to expand, to crush the Kurds everywhere and anywhere, and the other is to allow some reforms and to negotiate with the Kurds. But unfortunately, as you pointed out earlier in the program, the masters of war, or the hawks, are right now the policy makers, and the result is the war, the organized crime that is unleashed on the people.
AG: Do the Kurds feel like they have any ally here? During the Persian Gulf War number one in 1991, when the Kurds attempted to rise up right at the end of the bombing, the U.S. in the end did not support them. It had come out afterwards that there was a major CIA operation in northern Iraq working with the Kurds, and ultimately Saddam Hussein just executed the Kurds that were working with the CIA at the time, and the CIA apparently pulled out for a while, and now we understand they’re back. Is there any sense that there is anyone there to support the Kurds?
KX: The Kurdish history with the U.S. government is really a sad chapter. In 1991, Voice of America editorials urged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam with the hopes that they would be supported. That was the understanding on their part. If the Voice of America says that, then America would support them. They rose, but they were not supported, and they were crushed mercilessly. In 1975 that happened with Henry Kissinger, when he supported the fighting of the Kurdish rebels against Saddam, and again they were left in the dark, and [Kurdish leader Mustafa] Barzani had to run away and come to America. Today, unfortunately, the Kurds have really no faith in U.S. declarations or proclamations. Both the PUK and the KDP leaders have gone on record telling the U.S. not to attack, because they feel that they will lose even more. As far as I’m concerned, I oppose war per se, but I think that the Kurdish situation is so bad that any change in the status quo may actually bring in something good for them.
JG: In terms of Turkey’s relationship to the impending U.S. attack, we’ve heard a lot about other Arab countries that have basically opted out, that want no part of this possible strike. What has been the Turkish government’s relationship to the U.S. this time around?
KX: Turkish press accounts vary on this. At first when, Secretary of State Albright visited the region, but not Turkey, they raised hell, saying, “How come we’re not being honored with this high-level visit?” But then the Secretary of State placed a call to the Prime Minister of Turkey from Tel Aviv in Israel, and then the Chief of Staff visited Ankara, together with the Assistant Secretary of State Marc Grossman. Then [Turkey] felt that it was being honored now. If you read the Turkish press, they are saying that we’re not going to let it happen, but there’s a lot of activity at the [U.S. military] base in Incirlik in the southeast of Turkey, which will be the place where the bombers will take off. So, on the surface, they’re saying that there isn’t much going on, but the people of the city are saying that there’s a lot of activity in Incirlik; a lot of planes are landing, a lot of planes are taking off. So there’s some activity there that is not in the press, unfortunately.
AG: Our understanding at this point from a Reuters report that just came out, is that Turkish troops have killed six Kurdish rebels for the loss of one soldier in fighting in the southeast of Turkey overnight, and I assume with the huge concentration of Turkish troops on the border, and possibly what witnesses are saying, thousands of commandos entering northern Iraq, these are not going to be the only casualties.
KX: That’s right. The problem is, the Kurdish rebels are not a standing army; they are waging a guerrilla war, and the government of Turkey has blocked the whole region to foreign reporters. There was a Reuters reporter, Aliza Marcus, who became a persona non grata because she was reporting the facts. So the ugly war is going to go on, and there will be a lot of casualties, but unfortunately, there won’t be reporters to report it.
AG: I want to thank you very much, Kani Xulam, Director of the American Kurdish Information Network based in Washington, DC, for updating us on the situation, and we’ll keep people abreast of what’s happening, not only on the Turkish border with Iraq, but happening all over Iraq and the world when it comes to the proposed U.S. air attack on Iraq.