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ANALYSIS: Baghdad torn between its own Kurds and Ankara

By dpa news     Oct 25, 2007 in Politics
Iraq on Thursday sent a delegation to Ankara in a last ditch attempt to head off a major Turkish offensive into northern Iraq, from which Kurdish rebels have launched attacks on Turkey.
There is however skepticism over the Iraqi government's ability to control unchecked rebel activity let alone the fiercely independent Iraqi Kurds who are regarded by many as the main champions of Kurdish national aspirations for a homeland.
The Iraqi delegation is expected to respond to a list of demands presented by Turkey this week to end the activities of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iraq's Kurdish region.
Turkey is also demanding the extradition of some 100 senior PKK members, but a statement by the office of the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd himself, denied that he told Ankara the wanted PKK members would be handed over.
"We have often said PKK leaders are not in Iraqi Kurdish cities but they live with thousands of their fighters in the rugged Qandil mountains; hence it is not possible to arrest them or hand them over to Turkey," the Voices of Iraq news agency cited the statement as saying.
Despite Turkish qualms over Baghdad's ability to handle the crisis, Iraq's central government is exhausting all diplomatic means to head off the threatened Turkish offensive into territories of a country already descending into chaos.
Many observers however think Baghdad's urgent efforts may flounder as it has effectively no control over Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous Region.
The Kurdish region, run by a government of Kurdish patriots, is deeply scarred by past atrocities and campaigns of ethnic cleansing committed by the Sunni Arab regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
The Kurdish government runs its own economy, oilfields and even a small army made up of former warring militias loyal to the region's two main parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
The parties are led by two former political rivals, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the regional president, Massoud Barzani, who are now united by their unwavering belief in a federal Iraq where an autonomous "Kurdistan" aspiring for greater independence can thrive.
The Kurdish regional government even raised its own flag after openly rejecting the flag of the Saddam regime, which is still the official symbol of the Iraqi state elsewhere in the country.
The Kurds themselves seem to be torn between pragmatism and patriotism. And their leaders have given contradictory signals, reflecting this dilemma, many observers think.
Iraqi Kurdish leaders will have to choose between two contradicting objectives, wrote Salah Nasrawi, an Iraqi writer, in the Pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper.
Kurdish leaders "are facing two contradictions: the need to protect their emerging entity in Iraq and pushing forward the (Kurdish) national struggle in other countries, while utilizing the supportive background provided by southern Kurdistan," Nasrawi argued.
Southern Kurdistan, now part of Iraq, is seen as the bulwark of a Greater Kurdistan, which is the dream of millions of Kurds living mainly in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq, he opined.
Formally, the region's government and parliament have been waving an olive branch in an attempt to thwart the Turkish menace.
But individual Kurdish politicians have been rattling sabres and even urging both the central government in Baghdad and their local government to send troops to the border with Turkey to fend off an attack on what they seem to perceive as an emerging Kurdish nation.
In another sign of their independence, the Iraqi Kurdish government has pushed for Kurdish representation on the Iraqi delegation to Ankara.
"The Kurdish Alliance has insisted that representatives of the government of the region of Kurdistan be included in the Iraqi delegation that will visit Ankara," Kurdish MP Firiad Rawinduzi told al-Hayat newspaper, adding that the issue mainly concerns the region.
The Iraqi government run by a coalition, in which the Kurdish Alliance is a vital player, may have preferred to be seen in Ankara as the sole representative of Iraq's national interests, but Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was too weak to stand up to Kurdish persistence.
A vociferous Kurdish MP, Mahmud Othman, has recently urged al- Maliki's government to take a firmer position in the crisis with Ankara. He has even said the government could not survive without the Kurdish Alliance, calling it the mainstay in the shaky coalition government.
Al-Maliki may want to avoid a confrontation over curbing Kurdish growing drive for independence given that he has already lost ground in a battle over who (Baghdad or Arbil) is to control Iraq's national wealth.
So far Arbil seems to be winning more control over its oil and politics, which does not augur well for Baghdad's attempt to run the country's foreign policy and relations with its neighbours. dpa sf mga