Friday, February 22, 2008

Contracts and All That, Guns, Guns!

Very welcome news: Moqtada al-Sadr has decided to extend the Mahdi Army cease fire for another six months. While this is a positive development (both for US forces and, consquently, Mahdi Army forces), it is important to remember that this declaration of truce is not exactly a binding contract. It is entirely contingent on developments on the ground, namely the extent to which raids on Sadr's cadres (even non-militia members) persist. If the US military, in alliance with factions in Iraq hostile to the Sadrist current, continue to push too hard, they will force a response from Sadr - either of his own accord or as a result of mounting pressure from an increasingly hawkish Sadrist leadership. That would not be good.

In less positive news, Turkish ground forces have crossed the border into Iraq:

Turkish troops launched a ground incursion across the border into Iraq in pursuit of separatist Kurdish rebels, the military said Friday — a move that dramatically escalates Turkey's conflict with the militants.

It is the first confirmed ground operation by the Turkish military into Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. It also raised concerns that it could trigger a wider conflict with the U.S.-backed Iraqi Kurds, despite Turkey's assurances that its only target was the Kurdistan's Workers Party, or PKK.

The ground operation started after Turkish warplanes and artillery bombed suspected rebel targets on Thursday, the military said on its Web site. The incursion was backed by the Air Force, the statement said.

Turkey has conducted air raids against the PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq since December, with the help of U.S. intelligence, and it has periodically carried out so-called "hot pursuits" in which small units sometimes spend only a few hours inside Iraq.

The announcement of a cross-border, ground incursion of a type that Turkey carried out before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a major development in its conflict with the Kurdish rebels, which started in 1984 and has claimed as many as 40,000 lives.

Turkey staged about two-dozen incursions in Iraq during the rule of Saddam, who launched brutal campaigns against the Kurdish population. Some Turkish offensives involved tens of thousands of troops. Results were mixed, with rebels suffering blows to their ranks and supplies but regrouping after the bulk of the Turkish forces had left.

Let's hope this incursion is limited, contained and brief.

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