Amid Own Tensions, Turkey and Iran Pledge Mutual Aid Against Kurdish Rebels

Doubts remain that cooperation will mean ground war in Iraq

Turkey and Iran have pledged assistance to each other in their mutual fight against Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq. The new promise for support comes two days after rebels killed 24 Turkish soldiers and amid tensions between the two countries over a new missile defense system. Details of the partnership were not released.

On Wednesday, the Kurdistan Workers Party (P.K.K.) attacked two military posts in southeastern Turkey, killing 24 Turkish soldiers and wounding 18 more. Ankara’s response has been to send over 10,000 troops into southeastern Turkey. One Turkish newspaper reported that some troops have entered as far as 15 miles into Iraq after the rebels, but most of the soldiers have remained on Turkish soil.

The attacks came just a day after Turkey resumed bombing P.K.K. bases in northern Iraq and months after the P.K.K. ended its unilateral ceasefire. The air and artillery strikes have occurred all summer, at the same time that Tehran separately staged its own operations against the Party Of A Free Life Of Kurdistan (P.J.A.K.), a P.K.K.-offshoot that primarily targets Iran. Although both countries have sent some ground troops into Iraq Kurdistan recently, a ground war inside Iraq would be difficult due to the mountainous terrain. Such an operation could also destabilize the region further.

Although Baghdad sided with Turkey after the most recent attacks, Iraq has mostly been critical of Turkish incursions into Iraqi territory. Iraqi forces, however, are unable or unwilling to defend the borders properly and refused to take steps against the P.K.K. this time. The regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has been accused of siding with the Kurdish rebels in the past, said it would to stay out of the conflict.

Iran recently disapproved of Turkey’s agreement to host an early warning radar system that is part of N.A.T.O.’s European missile defense plans. Tehran sees the U.S.-backed system as a direct threat to their defense efforts, but Ankara says the system is meant to protect Turkey as well as other N.A.T.O. concerns. At the very least, by hosting the system, Turkey has garnered new political and material support from the United States in the form of Predator drones and helicopters to use against the Kurdish rebels.