(Socialist Worker, Tue 7 Oct 2014, Istanbul)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) meets US navy admiral Mike Mullen (Pic: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Flickr)
The Islamic State is a clear and present danger in Turkey, not a distant threat. Islamic State tanks and heavy artillery are just on the other side of the country’s long south-eastern border with Syria, a stone’s throw from the town of Suruc and several villages.
Wayward Islamic State mortar shells frequently land on the Turkish side of the border. Yesterday, three people were injured when a house in Suruc was hit.
The population in this part of Turkey, and on the Syrian side of the border, is mostly Kurdish. People have family on both sides and, in normal times, the border tends to be porous.
Islamic State has been attempting, for three weeks now, to take the Syrian town of Kobane. Kurdish resistance has been fierce, but the odds are stacked against them.
Initially, the Turkish government refused to open the border to escaping civilians, but was forced into letting 160,000 refugees in under pressure from public opinion at home.
The US-led coalition has been bombing ISIS positions outside Kobane for the past few days. Kurdish forces on the ground report it to have hardly any effect at all.
This battle puts the Turkish government in a difficult position.
It doesn’t want a second autonomous Kurdish entity on its borders (the first being in Northern Iraq), but the fall of Kobane would both endanger the peace process with Turkey’s own Kurdish movement, led by the PKK and make the unpredictable ISIS a direct neighbour.
After considerable arm-twisting by Washington, Turkey has taken sides with the US coalition. Parliament voted to authorise the government to send troops abroad and to allow foreign troops to launch operations from Turkish soil.
While the predicament of the Kurds in Kobane makes it difficult for the anti-war movement to argue against US bombs and Turkish military involvement, it is important that the argument is put forward.
US bombs have never solved any problem in the Middle East or elsewhere. Neither the US nor Turkey are likely ever to do any favours for the Kurds.