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The Turkish General Staff officially confirmed troop withdrawal
The Turkish General Staff officially confirmed troop withdrawal from Iraq a day after the visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Ankara.

Having tacitly blessed Turkey's military operation on Iraqi territory, the United States decided that its procrastination may harm its own interests.

Turkey launched a military operation on February 21. Its goal was to wipe out military bases of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). In the first days of the mission, the United States urged Turkey not to drag out military actions, but there was no deadline. In the last few days the situation started to change rapidly.

On Thursday, U.S. President George W. Bush said: "The Turks need to move, move quickly, achieve their objective and get out."

Gates was even more specific. On the way to Ankara, he said that the operation should not last more than a week or two, and that he was talking about days, not months. He urged the Turks to use political and economic methods in addition to force. He reiterated the same words on February 28 after talking with his Turkish counterpart Vecdi Gonul and other high-ranking Turkish politicians.

U.S. and European officials have suggested such ideas to Ankara more than once. Moreover, settlement of the Kurdish issue is one of the conditions for the discussion of Turkey's EU entry. But until recently, these words did not produce results, and there were few hopes that they would.

However, Ankara stopped the operation although it declared shortly before that there would be no deadline, and that the troops would not leave northern Iraq until they eliminate the threat posed by the Kurdish militants.

This response was obvious because no country can fix a deadline for the conduct of an anti-terrorist operation - developments are always unpredictable. Today, militants have their bases in one place; tomorrow they move them to another. Dozens of new fighters replaced those who were killed in action. A war can be waged indefinitely. Turkey has been trying to put an end to the PKK armed formations for 24 years. There is no guarantee that Ankara will score a success abroad. Nevertheless it made the decision to withdraw its troops.

Indicatively, in its statement for the press, the Ministry of National Defense emphasized that Ankara independently made decisions on the start and end of the military operation. Apparently, the parallels between Gates' visit, Bush's words and troop withdrawal are too obvious.

Turkey could not ignore Washington's urgent appeals for too long. It was free to conduct its military operation until it clashed with U.S. interests in the region. This could have happened any time, and it did happen.

Not a single regional force, including the Iraqi government, and the leaders of the Iraqi Kurds objected to the goals set by Turkey for this mission. But armed actions could upset the fragile political equilibrium in Iraq. It was enough for Turkish troops to miss once and hit civilian facilities in northern Iraq instead of PKK militants, or to drag out the operation. The Iraqi Kurds were not likely to tolerate Turkish presence on their territory for a long time.

There are endless debates in Iraq about the delimitation of powers between the center and the provinces. The biggest problem is relations with the Kurds, who have been under Western protectorate since the early 1990s. De facto they have been independent of Baghdad. They do not want to share their sovereignty, and the Turkish invasion was a mobilizing factor for them.

Jurisdiction over Kirkuk is one of the most urgent and sensitive issues. Under Saddam Hussein, this Kurdish city was made Arabian and Iraqi Kurdistan's administrative borders were moved. Now the Kurds are demanding Kirkuk's return. The city's Arab population and Turkomans, who are under Turkey's patronage, are against this.

Disputes over Kirkuk are aggravated by the rich oil deposits.

A referendum on its destiny was scheduled for December 2007 but was moved to next June for political reasons. If the Turkish operation were prolonged, this question would hang in the air again. This would probably be in the interests of Turkey and the United States, but it would not be worth irritating the Iraqi Kurds because the stakes are too high - not only Kirkuk's future but also adoption of a law on oil and the final version of the Iraqi constitution, not to mention general stabilization in Iraq.

The situation in Iraq has been going from bad to worse. The United States is trying to balance out its relations with all regional players but it might have to pay too much for its political maneuvering.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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