This week, Iraq’s parliament is voting on approval of the Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA), an accord that spells out the conditions of the U.S. occupation and provides a timetable calling for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by December 31, 2011. Approval of the accord will open yet another chapter to shape Ankara’s counterterrorism polices against the PKK. Turkish journalist Fikret Bila, who is well known for his close relations with the Turkish military and whose work usually reflects the views of influential institutions in Ankara, is not expecting a total American withdrawal from Iraq:
To digest the new reality in Iraq, one of the questions Ankara seeks to answer is whether the Obama administration will allow Turkey to continue its military operations in Iraqi territory. In a speech given in the United States on November 13, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated:
In his draft agenda for a security partnership with Europe, Obama emphasized that America’s relationship with Turkey has been strained by the Bush administration’s “misguided and mismanaged intervention in Iraq, which has helped revive the terrorist threat posed to Turkey by the separatist Kurdish Workers Party.” The solution offered in the draft is to “lead a diplomatic effort to bring together Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish leaders and negotiate a comprehensive agreement that deals with the PKK threat, guarantees Turkey’s territorial integrity, and facilitates badly needed Turkish investment in and trade with the Kurds of northern Iraq.” 
Turkey has already resumed three-way talks on the PKK issue with Baghdad and Washington (Today’s Zaman, November 15; Hurriyet Daily News, November 20). In addition, Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin has revealed that Turkey may take further steps to ameliorate Abdullah Ocalan’s prison conditions if Ocalan calls on the PKK to lay down its arms (Hurriyet, November 25). Ocalan has not yet responded. However, what seems obvious is that the PKK has been revising its strategies against the changing nature of the Turkish and American approach to the terrorism problem. The PKK leadership has written a letter to President-Elect Obama while also intensifying its harsh criticism of the United States for aiding Turkey. According to Ahmet Deniz, the PKK’s head of external relations:
In these uncertain times for the Kurds of Iraq, it remains to be seen whether the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will seek to eliminate the PKK from its territory. What is interesting to note here, however, is that the Turkish military has not been involved in public discussions about the recent developments. At least two technical points are directly related to the U.S. withdrawal plan and Obama’s approach of bringing Turkish and Kurdish leaders together to find a solution for PKK terrorism. First, will the Obama administration allow the Turkish military to continue its air raids on PKK camps in Iraqi territory? Second, will the Obama administration continue to share the actionable intelligence provided by American unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with the Turkish military?
In what seems to be an effort to reduce the Turkish military’s reliance on U.S. intelligence, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul visited Israel in October to try and expedite the long-delayed completion of 10 Heron UAVs being produced by Israel Aircraft Industries. Two of the Herons are scheduled to be delivered by the end of November, with the other eight scheduled for delivery in early 2009 (Yeni Safak, October 31).
Ankara appears to be adjusting its counterterrorism strategies according to the new reality in Iraq. This includes reducing dependency on American intelligence provided by UAVs and the establishment of better diplomatic mechanisms with the Kurds of Iraq to isolate the PKK. Turkey still considers American support as a vital element for its fight, but due to the expected U.S military withdrawal from Iraq, the nature of this support may shift from military cooperation to diplomatic coordination.
1. “Barack Obama and Joe Biden: A Stronger Partnership with Europe for a Safer America,” n.d., www.barackobama.com/pdf/Fact_Sheet_Europe_FINAL.pdf.