16 July 2007

1. "Turkey election stirs optimism, change for Kurds", pro-Kurdish politicians are poised to enter Turkey's parliament for the first time in more than a decade, bringing hope to many Kurds that their cultural and political rights will be addressed.

2. "Rights group says 225 killed in Turkey unrest in six months", a total of 225 people died in Turkey in escalating violence between Turkish forces and armed Kurdish rebels in the first half of 2007, the country's main human rights watchdog said Friday.

3. "Turkey boosts troops at border", Turkey's army has boosted troop levels in the restive southeast to more than 200,000, most of them stationed along the border with Iraq, security sources told Reuters Friday.

4. "Iraq: Kurdish Region Feels Threat Of Turkish Invasion", in recent weeks, Turkey has massed tens of thousands of soldiers on its border with Iraq and repeatedly threatened to launch a cross-border operation to pursue Kurdish militants.

5. "Two soldiers killed in violence in eastern Turkey", two Turkish soldiers died in fresh violence blamed on armed Kurdish rebels in the east of the country, officials said Friday.

6. "Turkish exam song lands rockers in court", as punk rock goes, a song bemoaning a high school exam hardly sounds like the stuff of anarchy. But in Turkey it can land you in court, as an Istanbul rock band has discovered.

7. "TURKEY: Traffic Lights to Arbil Back on Red", it seems now certain: No invasion of Northern Iraq by the Turkish army before the legislative elections scheduled for Jul. 22.

8. "Turkey: Kirkuk referendum risky", a Turkish government official warned that a referendum on the status of Kirkuk in Iraq could cause new conflict.

1. - Reuters - "Turkey election stirs optimism, change for Kurds":

DIYARBAKIR / 15 July 2007 / by Paul de Bendern

Pro-Kurdish politicians are poised to enter Turkey's parliament for the first time in more than a decade, bringing hope to many Kurds that their cultural and political rights will be addressed.

Turkey's poor, restive southeast has not been represented in parliament by pro-Kurdish parties since the early 1990s when several MPs were kicked out of the chamber and later jailed for speaking the Kurdish language while taking their oath of office.

Turkey's parliamentary elections are set for July 22.

"We don't care that they won't get into government. All we want is to be represented in parliament and that they speak on our behalf," said Mehmet Serif Kurtay, 47, a vegetable vendor in a dusty bazaar in Diyarbakir, the largest city of the southeast.

Turkey's Kurds, numbering between 12 million and 15 million in a total population of 74 million, have long complained of political, economic and cultural discrimination, partly because they are not officially recognised as an ethnic minority.

Kurds hope these elections will be a turning point for the poorest region in Turkey, a country otherwise experiencing an economic boom, and ultimately lead to the end to an armed conflict between separatist Kurdish rebels and the armed forces.

"No one dares to address the Kurdish issues because many Turks think all Kurds are terrorists and that the only language and identity in Turkey is Turkish," said Nusret Icli, a Kurdish musician who abandoned his professional music career after serving time in jail. He is now planning a new record.

"The Kurdish candidates can help change that image."

Turkey's largest pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) has fielded dozens of unaffiliated or "independent" candidates because the DTP fears it would not pass Turkey's high 10 percent national threshold of votes required to win seats in parliament.

Opinion polls predict these candidates will win 20 to 30 of the 550 seats in parliament. That would be sufficient for the members to reorganise under the DTP banner once elected.

Turkey's ruling centre-right AK Party, with Islamist roots, is expected to remain the biggest party in the new parliament. The centre-left CHP and the far-right Turkish nationalist MHP are also tipped to clear the 10 percent barrier and win seats.

The DTP, then known as DEHAP, won six percent of the vote in the last general election in 2002. It picked up no seats despite winning most votes in the mainly Kurdish southeast.


"My worry is that expectations are too high, Kurds think all their problems will disappear once the DTP enters parliament. That would be true if Turkey were a democracy, but it's not," said Sezgin Tanrikulu, a leading human rights lawyer.

Turkish nationalists fear Kurds want to divide the country and say the DTP is a mouthpiece for the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which still musters considerable regional support.

The DTP denies any links although people in the southeast say the party has loose ties with the rebel movement.

Ankara blames the PKK for more than 30,000 deaths since the group launched its armed campaign for an independent homeland in 1984.

Violence is again on the rise, with over 200 soldiers and PKK rebels killed since January, a human rights group says.

Many locals believe the DTP can help end the conflict.

But if opinion polls are correct, the DTP could find itself embroiled in confrontations and possibly legal challenges from Turkish nationalists once in parliament.

Aysel Tugluk, a DTP member running as an independent, is likely to get heat from fellow MPs if elected because of her ties as a defence lawyer for jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

DTP leader Ahmet Turk, a veteran politician who was among those jailed over the 1991 incident in parliament, downplayed concerns that his party would spoil this historic opportunity.

"We know there will be provocations, but we are not going to parliament to create clashes, but to find solutions," said Turk during a campaign trip to Kiziltepe, near the Syrian border.

The DTP already runs a few municipalities in the southeast.

Pressured by the EU, Turkey's AK Party government has taken small steps to meet Kurdish demands in recent years, such as allowing limited Kurdish language television broadcasts and private Kurdish language classes.

"The situation has improved since we came to power, but it takes time and there is a lot of history to overcome," said Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker, himself a Kurd, during a campaign trip to the province of Igdir in eastern Turkey.

Some local people seem impressed by the AK Party's record.

2. - AFP - "Rights group says 225 killed in Turkey unrest in six months":

DIYARBAKIR / 13 July 2007

A total of 225 people died in Turkey in escalating violence between Turkish forces and armed Kurdish rebels in the first half of 2007, the country's main human rights watchdog said Friday.

The announcement came as officials said two Turkish troops and two rebels from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were killed in fresh fighting.

"We see a serious increase in the number of daily clashes," Mihdi Perinçek, the Human Rights Association (IHD) representative for the mainly Kurdish east and southeast of Turkey, told a press conference here.

"We are also concerned that clashes are spreading across the region," he said.

A tally compiled by the IHD from officials and independent sources said 111 members of the security forces, 109 PKK rebels and five civilians were killed in the region from January to June.

This compared with 190 people killed in the corresponding period of 2006, the IHD said.

On its Internet website, the Turkish general staff said 100 PKK rebels were killed between April and June. There were no figures available for the first three months of the year, or for losses on the military side.

Violence increased markedly this year as the PKK stepped up its attacks and the army responded with large-scale operations to hunt down the rebels as it massed troops on the border with Iraq, where the militants take refuge.

Security sources here said Friday that a soldier was killed in a clash late Thursday with PKK rebels in the eastern Bingol province.

Another soldier was killed, and one wounded in a land mine explosion blamed on the PKK late Thursday in neighbouring Erzincan province, also in the east, the local governor's office said.

Turkish soldiers shot dead two PKK rebels late Thursday in the southeastern Hakkari province, which borders Iraq and Iran, the governor's office said.

The PKK took up arms for self-rule in Turkey's east and southeast in 1984 in a bloody conflict that has claimed more than 37,000 lives.

3. - Reuters - "Turkey boosts troops at border":

DIYARBAKIR / 14 July 2007

Turkey's army has boosted troop levels in the restive southeast to more than 200,000, most of them stationed along the border with Iraq, security sources told Reuters Friday.

Those sources, who declined to be named, said the unusually large buildup, which includes tanks, heavy artillery and aircraft, was part of a security crackdown on Kurdish rebels hiding in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates dismissed the estimate of 200,000 troops, saying it was too high.

"I have not seen anything that would indicate there are numbers of Turkey's soldiers along the border of that size," Gates told reporters in Washington.

The Pentagon has disputed reports of increased Turkish troop levels for days. The top U.S. general, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace, said Turkey has the capability to fight the rebels inside Iraq without boosting troop levels.

"The truth of the matter is that the Turkish armed forces on their side of the border have always had sufficient forces to be able to take actions without having to be reinforced," Pace said.

NATO-member Turkey has refused to rule out a possible cross-border operation to crush up to 4,000 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels believed to be based in mountains in northern Iraq, despite opposition from Washington and Baghdad.

The military General Staff in Ankara was not immediately available for comment on troop numbers. It usually does not release such figures.

Tensions along the border have soared in recent months following an upsurge in attacks across Turkey that Ankara blames on PKK militants. More than 200 Turkish soldiers and PKK rebels have been killed since the start of the year, a Turkish human rights association said Friday.

Armed forces chief General Yasar Buyukanit has repeatedly urged the government to allow an incursion into Iraq to target PKK militants. Those statements have drawn warnings from the head of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq that Kurds would fight back if attacked.

Washington, while naming the PKK a terrorist group, fears any major operation by Turkey in northern Iraq could anger Iraqi Kurdish allies and stoke wider conflict in a relatively peaceful region of the war-torn country.

But U.S. and Iraqi forces have been unable to clamp down on the PKK because they are stretched fighting insurgents elsewhere in Iraq. Both Washington and Baghdad have called for diplomatic means to calm tensions with Turkey.

4. - RFE/RL - "Iraq: Kurdish Region Feels Threat Of Turkish Invasion":

ZAKHO / 13 July 2007 / by Abd al-Hamid Zibari

In recent weeks, Turkey has massed tens of thousands of soldiers on its border with Iraq and repeatedly threatened to launch a cross-border operation to pursue Kurdish militants.

The reasons why many people in Kurdish-administered northern Iraq see a Turkish invasion as a real possibility become ever more apparent as you near the border.

There are abandoned villages, craters in the road from recent shelling, some unexploded shells in the fields, and fires that have been lit on the mountainsides by artillery barrages.

Residents of the Zakho and Kanimasi areas in Dahuk Governorate claim there is regular artillery and mortar fire coming from the Turkish side of the border. The targets are the militiamen of the separatist Turkish-Kurd PKK, who have bases in this mountainous area. But the locals say the shelling and Turkish raids into Iraq to chase the militants seriously threaten their own lives, too.
"The PKK elements are armed. They pass across the border and go into the mountains. We cannot stop them, because they would kill us if we tried.”

Between Shelling and Gunmen

Abdul-Rahman Mahmud, from the village of Kista, three kilometers from the Turkish border, is the head of a family of eight that makes its living by keeping bees.

“Some villages have been abandoned in this area," Mahmud said. "The only ones remaining are the older men who stay to care for the beehives, or to irrigate peach, apple, walnut, and pomegranate orchards. The shelling has affected us to the point where we can no longer look after the bees, and there is a pasture known as Ayn al-Jawz to which we have been unable to take our grazing animals. It forces us to keep the cattle in hot areas.”

He says the local population has no contacts with the PKK fighters who have hideouts in the area.

“All of their [PKK fighters] necessities come from Turkey, across the border. We are occupied with our own affairs. The PKK elements are armed. They pass across the border and go into the mountains. We cannot stop them, because they would kill us if we tried,” Mahmud said.

If the fighting continues or grows in intensity, he says, the villagers will have to seek refuge elsewhere. Some of his own neighbors already have. “Zubayr has already fled because of the shelling, leaving behind his land. He took his livestock and departed the region.”

Another village, known as Nuzduri, is four kilometers from the Turkish border. It has 56 houses but they are all abandoned now. Ramadhan Mir Ahmed, who stayed in the area to look after his orchard, claims the reason is the same – shelling.

“Since autumn we and our families have been raising our cattle peacefully. Then they started artillery fire, which came at us, and it continued for a month. Just yesterday, an artillery round struck the road, and the shelling continued on the mountain areas,” Ahmed told Radio Free Iraq.

He believes that the Iraqi government, the Kurdistan regional government, or the coalition forces will have to reach an agreement with the Turkish government to stop shelling the villages.

Some people come from time to time to check on their homes, to irrigate the orchards, where the fruit is beginning to ripen, or to look after their abandoned crops. One is Majid Othman. He said that his family resettled in the area earlier this year but had to leave again because of the region's instability.

“We took our livestock away in four trips. And we ask [the Turkish military] to stop shelling us because we are neighbors and we must be compassionate with each other,” he said.

The areas most targeted by shelling – which are also the areas where PKK elements can be seen – are sealed off by checkpoints. They are manned by peshmerga -- soldiers linked to the autonomous Kurdish region’s authorities. They warn travelers to proceed at their own risk.

A PKK Base in Iraqi Kurdistan

There is another checkpoint ahead when one reaches the slopes of Qindil Mountain in the Iraqi-Turkish-Iranian border triangle. Now the checkpoints are manned by PKK fighters. Here PKK flags are flying and there is a large picture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is imprisoned in Turkey. Anyone going further is forbidden to take pictures and must submit to a full search.

Jamil Bayuq is one of the PKK’s founders and currently a party leader at the base. He denies that his fighters are using the Iraqi Kurdish region as a launching pad for attacks against Turkey.

"We have not attacked, and we have not decided to declare war, and we are abiding by the cease-fire. We are now in a legitimate phase of protecting ourselves. If the Turkish government broadens its attacks we will also extend our self-protection,” Bayuq said.

He added, “Turkey cannot prevent us from going to the Kurdish cities on the Turkish side [of the border], because Kurds are also present in the Turkish cities. And if they prevent us, that would lead to an increase in the number of operations inside Turkey.”

Bayuq says that the toughened security regime on the Turkish side of the border is related to the upcoming elections in Turkey. He dismisses the idea that even a large-scale military operation across the border could hurt the PKK leadership or activities. On the other hand, the military escalation is seen by Bayuq as unwanted by his group because it may influence the election results in Turkey by giving an upper hand to supporters of the army.

The PKK has had bases on Qindil Mountain since 1985. This vast area, which is difficult to access, has a long history of providing refuge for armed Kurds. The PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, and Turkey, is attempting to secure the independence of the Kurdish-majority southeastern Anatolia region.

An 'Unjustified' Threat

Authorities in Iraq's Kurdish region have their own concerns about the presence of PKK in the mountainous border area.

Adnan Al-Mufti, a speaker of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Assembly, told Radio Free Iraq that Turkish threats of military operations against the PKK fighters on Iraqi territory are unjustified and only complicate the problems of Iraqis.

“We are busy trying to overcome many problems, with terrorism topping the list. Any Turkish military interference will add to the Iraqi people’s problems and complicate the Iraqi issue. We hope that Turkey will be supportive of the Iraqi people in solving their problems, and not the opposite," Al-Mufti said. He added that an incursion would harm prospects for stability in the region.

Instead, he said, there is a need to deal with the Kurdish issue in Turkey through dialogue and negotiations, without resorting to a military solution.

“We believe that resorting to arms and force was never useful in the past, or at present, and will not be useful in the future. In the end, if there is a political issue, it needs to be solved through diplomatic and peaceful means, and through dialogue," Al-Mufti said.

The regional parliament speaker praises the position of Turkish leaders who are opposed to using military solutions against the fighters of the PKK inside Iraqi territory.

Jabbar Yawar, the deputy peshmerga minister of the Kurdistan government and the spokesman for the peshmerga, told Radio Free Iraq that any foreign military operation on Iraqi territory, including in the Kurdistan region, falls under the authority of Iraq's federal government.

In the event of a military operation, he said, “the defense of these borders is primarily the responsibility of the Iraqi federal government forces, as it is the responsibility of the multinational forces that are charged, in accordance with an international resolution, with protecting all of Iraq, including the Kurdistan region.”

Yawar adds that peshmerga forces will play a supporting role to the Iraqi government and multinational forces in case of an incursion.

5. - AFP - "Two soldiers killed in violence in eastern Turkey":

DIYARBAKIR / 13 July 2007

Two Turkish soldiers died in fresh violence blamed on armed Kurdish rebels in the east of the country, officials said Friday.

One soldier was killed in a clash late Thursday between Turkish troops and Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels in Bingol province, security sources said.

A second soldier was killed, and another wounded, in a land mine explosion late Thursday in the neighbouring Erzincan province, the local governor's office said.

The mine was believed to have been planted by PKK rebels.

The PKK notably stepped up violence this year.

The army has launched a large-scale operation against the group in eastern and southeastern Turkey and massed troops on the border with Iraq, where the militants take refuge.

The PKK took up arms for self-rule in Turkey's mainly Kurdish east and southeast in 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives.

6. - AP - "Turkish exam song lands rockers in court":

ISTANBUL / 15 July 2007 / by Christopher Torchia

As punk rock goes, a song bemoaning a high school exam hardly sounds like the stuff of anarchy. But in Turkey it can land you in court, as an Istanbul rock band has discovered.

All the song does is lash out against Turkey's equivalent of the SAT, the exam that all Turkish high-schoolers must pass to have a shot at getting into college. High-schoolers the world over may sympathize, but to Turkish prosecutors it's an insult to the state and its employees.

The troubles besetting the five-man group called "Deli," or "Crazy," as they head to trial Thursday are typical of the extremes endured by a country historically torn between cultures — Islam and secularism, Europe and Asia, democracy and military dictatorship, and a reverence for institutions of state that frequently collides with basic civil liberties.

The song is several years old and may have gone unnoticed were this not the Internet age. It came to prosecutors' notice only after a teenager lip-synched the song and posted it on youtube.com last year for the whole world to see.

Now the musicians, along with their manager and a former band member, will go on trial on July 19 in the Turkish capital, Ankara. If convicted, they face up to 18 months in jail, although they could get off with a fine or a warning.

Turkey, which seeks European Union membership, retains strict limits on expression. Several intellectuals, notably Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk and Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, were prosecuted on charges of "insulting Turkishness" for comments on mass killings of Armenians a century ago. Dink was subsequently assassinated and 14 suspects are on trial.

In March, a court order made YouTube inaccessible in Turkey for two days because of videos that allegedly insulted Ataturk, the late, revered founder of the modern republic.

The punk song is called "OSYM," the Turkish acronym for The Student Selection and Placement Center. That's the state institution that decides which students go to university, based on a three-hour multiple-choice exam held every June.

In a nation of 70 million with 10 percent unemployment, passing the test is critical to every young Turk's future prospects. Even so, in 2006 there were university spots for fewer than one-third of the 1.5 million students who took the test.

"Life should not be a prison because of an exam," go the lyrics of "OSYM." "I have gotten lost/ You have ruined my future/ I am going to tell you one thing:/ Shove that exam..."

Mild stuff by the standards of Western popular culture, but according to Turkish media it prompted Unal Yarimagan, the professor who chairs the university placement system, to seek legal advice, and the matter was referred to state prosecutors.

"We opened the case and now it is in the hands of justice," state prosecutor Kursat Kayral said.

There has been little public discussion about the wisdom of prosecuting the punk band. Turkish prosecutors routinely file defamation complaints, creating a glut of cases, some of which never come to trial.

Gathered in a cramped Istanbul recording studio, the Deli musicians don't look like stereotypical punks — no spiked hair, lip studs or drugs. They're in their early 20s, polite, mild-mannered and irreverent. And all passed the university exam. Vocalist Cengiz Sari is studying to become an art teacher. Base guitarist Enis Coban studied textile manufacturing.

Coban says Turkey has more censorship than Europe or the United States, but less than China or Iran.

"Compared to dictatorships, Turkey is like heaven," he said. "Turkey still has a lot missing, but we believe that it is on the right track to improve itself."

7. - IPS - "TURKEY: Traffic Lights to Arbil Back on Red":

ANKARA / 12 July 2007 / by Jacques N. Couvas

It seems now certain: No invasion of Northern Iraq by the Turkish army before the legislative elections scheduled for Jul. 22. Disappointed? Many in Turkey are, not least the military. Surprised? Not a bit. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's fingers are expert at navigating between buttons of the yellow and red traffic lights of the road to Arbil.

The decision late Monday night by Erdogan to postpone military operations on Iraqi soil with the purpose of neutralising the armed militia of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) had been anticipated by opposition leaders. Statements a week earlier by the head of the government on his decision to order the intervention, subject to parliamentary approval, during an impromptu meeting with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, were met as "foxy".

Erdogan, in his meeting with the President, had obviously played the card of reconciliation in the interest of the nation, while under pressure by Sezer, who was voicing the concerns of a large part of the population, and particularly that of the armed forces, over the government's inaction against Iraq-based PKK guerrillas.

The Prime Minister a week ago had little space to manoeuvre, as the President could, theoretically at least, and in time of recess of the national assembly, decide to switch on the green light and let the military have their way. So, Erdogan let everyone believe that he was prepared to call for an extraordinary session of the parliament to decide on the military incursion.

Late Monday night, on Turkish television, the Prime Minister was cool about the whole issue and simply clarified that "the possibility of getting parliamentary approval for an operation is not on our agenda right now."

Did he change his mind, or is it yet another political move during the last straight line before the elections? A reason for the new position, put forward by members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), is that the timing for a full-scale offensive in Iraq is bad, as any distraction of the population could be detrimental to the democratic process.

More likely are other considerations, both internal and external. Turkish Kurds, an ethnic minority with political rights, are spread over eleven provinces in the south-eastern part of the country and in isolated villages in other regions, with their total number estimated to be around 12 million, although official population statistics show less than ten million.

A large ethnically-Kurdish community lives in Istanbul and its suburbs. In recent years, Kurdish migration has expanded to other major urban areas of Western Turkey. Some Kurds have succeeded as tradesmen or qualified workers, but many lead poor lives in growing shanty suburbs around large cities.

Kurds from the most impoverished areas have shown allegiance to the AKP in recent years. Like Turks, they are Sunni Muslims, but their devotion to religion is pronounced; it is therefore understandable that the Islamist-origin governing party prefers caution on a matter as sensitive as a major offensive against the PKK just days before the elections.

But there is evidence that Erdogan is also taking into account external factors in his cautious approach towards PKK in Northern Iraq. According to sources here, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a telephone conversation last Friday with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, requested that Turkey wait for the steps the U.S. and the Iraqi central government would take against the PKK before launching an operation. Earlier reports said Rice got no firm assurance from Gul that Turkey would not carry out a cross-border operation.

Erdogan said on Monday he was concerned over recent PKK suicide attacks against Turkmen minorities living in Northern Iraq, the defence of which is given as one of the reasons for Turkish military incursion into that area. In spite of the chronic irritation of his government over the Iraqi authorities' inaction to prevent such events, he reiterated his proposal that the whole matter be dealt with through trilateral talks between Turkey, Iraq and the U.S.

In reality, Turkey is disappointed with U.S. support to the Iraqi government and its tolerance of PKK's growing terrorist actions within Eastern Turkey, with use of sophisticated foreign-supplied weapons. The Iraqi government has repeatedly reassured Turkey of its willingness to clamp down on the guerrillas.

The Turkish population, regardless of geography, political affiliation, or social class, is increasingly vocal in its anti-Americanism, as recent polls have revealed, and the press reflects on a daily basis. Ahead of the elections, some candidates adroitly use the "ugly American" card, and conspiracy theories abound.

Many analysts, including business executives and academics, seem genuinely convinced that the U.S. government is planning to create a Kurdish state, cutting into Iraq and Turkey, in a model inspired by the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

An opinion poll conducted in June on behalf of an Istanbul private university showed that 35.6 percent of Turks consider the United States, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) ally, a threat to their nation. The formation of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq ranks second as a major threat, with 25.8 percent, and even Israel is perceived as inimical to Turkish national interests by 4.2 percent of the persons interviewed.

The rationale for Americano-phobia is that, by creating an independent Kurdish state, the U.S. would seek to destabilise Syria and Iran, whose populations include large numbers of ethnic Kurds -- ranging between ten and seven percent of the country citizens.

An argument advanced to support this theory is that the Kurds of Iraq, who represent 20 to 25 percent of the country's population, were instrumental in the demise of Saddam's regime. They could, accordingly, be used to undermine social peace in Iran and Syria.

Rumours on the streets of Ankara and other cities around the country, as well as in the editorial offices of newspapers and TV stations, purport that the Turkish security services are in possession of videotapes of weapon deliveries by U.S. military staff to PKK combatants in Northern Iraq. These, say critics of the Bush administration, are proofs of U.S. perfidy.

Although the Prime Minister's reasons to postpone sine die the march to Arbil in northern Iraq are consistent with his pragmatism in many areas of his governance so far, it is less clear what the feelings, and plans, of the army are after Monday's news. It would seem unlikely that the, mildly put, 90-degree turn in policy, although temporary, could have been announced to action-hungry armed forces without previous consensus among the military staff, the presidency and the government. According to current reports, 80 percent of active career officers have submitted voluntary declarations for deployment in the combat zone.

A claim on Monday by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd from Northern Iraq, that Turkey had massed 140,000 soldiers on its border with Iraq put nerves to test both sides of the border. Turkey's military command had no comment, and the U.S. State Department said there has been no such massive build-up. Turkey possesses the largest military force among NATO member states, after the U.S.

In reality, however, Turkish forces are already operating within 15 to 25 Km (10 to 15 miles) beyond the border, in what is called an anti-terrorist and policing operation, with the tacit acceptance of the Iraqi government and the U.S. occupation authorities.

As Turkish tank commanders patiently queue up before the red light to the East, it is everyone's guess when, or whether, Erdogan's fingers will find the green button.

8. - UPI - "Turkey: Kirkuk referendum risky":

WASHINGTON / 12 July 2007

A Turkish government official warned that a referendum on the status of Kirkuk in Iraq could cause new conflict.

The Iraqi constitution calls for a referendum of the population on whether Kirkuk will be annexed to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq or remain outside of it. If it is annexed, there will be seriously divisive questions about the revenues from the rich oil and gas fields there.

"This kind of eventuality is going to bring about new tensions... in the area. That has to be avoided at any cost," said Turkish Ambassador to the United States Nabi Sensoy. "We feel a domino effect will take hold in the area. ... We fear it might really usher in a period" of ethnic violence.

Kirkuk was once heavily Turkoman and Kurdish. Under Saddam Hussein's regime it was "Arabized" by seizing homes and filling them with Iraqi Arabs.

Kurdish parties are moving large numbers of Kurds back to the city in advance of the referendum. Sensoy said the Turkish government sees this as an effort to influence the outcome of the referendum.

"We know the demographic equilibrium in that city has been upset in last three to four years," he said. "The result will be a foregone conclusion. It is not going to be a fair thing."

A U.S. military source told UPI Wednesday the referendum is likely to be delayed two to five years because the conditions to hold the referendum have not yet been met.