Report: Turkey plots Iraq invasion

This story should set off flashing lights and alarm bells in every newsroom from Ankara to Anchorage.  But chances are you're reading it here first.

Al-Jazeera reports that Turkey's parliament is giving serious thought to sending troops to occupy Kurdish northern Iraq "for security purposes" — an act that could set off a free-for-all in the Middle East.

Onur Oymen, the deputy chairman of the Opposition Republican PeopleÂ’s Party (CHP), said: "Northern Iraq is the only place in the world where a terrorist group can operate without being pursued."

"If the Iraqis and the US are not prepared to take action over this, then we must."

The background: Turkey has an ongoing problem with ethnic Kurdish rebels, some of whom take cover next door in northern Iraq, where they get protection from their fellow Kurds.  Turkey's government feels the Kurds who run northern Iraq more or less independently of Baghdad aren't doing enough to keep the Kurdish rebels from Turkey in line.  Hence, the threat to invade.

How this would go down with Team Bush is anyone's guess.  Washington is tight with the Kurds in Iraq, but Turkey is a NATO ally.

Adding fuel to this volatile situation: the status of Kirkuk, an oil-rich city with a tinderbox ethnic mix that lies on the edge of Iraqi Kurdistan.  The new Iraqi constitution calls for a referendum by year's end on whether Kirkuk should become part of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.  The Kurds of Kirkuk think that's a swell idea, but the Arabs and Turkmen (ethnic brethren of the Turks) don't see it that way, and Turkey sees itself as a sort of protector of the Turkmen, especially as the Kurds attempt a certain amount of ethnic cleansing in advance of the vote.

The al-Jazeera story indicates one thing that might defuse this situation:

Tough talk between Ankara and the Kurds in northern Iraq has done little to halt the flow of goods over the border.

Zeki Fattah, a senior economic adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil, the northern Iraqi capital, said: "If you want to see whatÂ’s really going on, go down to the border."

At the border youÂ’ll see a queue of trucks, stretching for over 20km, bringing with them all manner of goods from Turkey."Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, business between these two former warring neighbours has mushroomed.

America's Founders knew it well:  There's nothing like trade to keep the drums of war at a distance.