Turkey cold to hosting U.S. intelligence command center

The US’s total pullout from Iraq in December of this year has prompted the intensification of secret negotiations between Turkey and the US over the fate of Washington’s supply of real time intelligence to Ankara since November 2007. The US’s transfer of real time intelligence to Ankara has been critical in pinpointing the targets of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants accurately in northern Iraq. Using real time intelligence, Turkish jets orchestrated strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq mainly until 2009, the year that Ankara launched a policy of seeking resolution of the decades-long Kurdish dispute through non-military means with the intention of reducing PKK violence.

Meanwhile, this writer is not for the continuation of the intense armed struggle against the PKK and instead supports non-military means in ending the war with the PKK as well as a political solution to the decades-long Kurdish question. But the Turkish government appears not to have fully installed its democratic control over its highly politicized armed forces, which means that Ankara will continue getting US real time intelligence support concerning PKK activities in northern Iraq for some time to come. So I have to share with readers the ongoing, behind the doors, negotiations between Turkey and the US over the fate of the real time intelligence supply.

The US has been gathering real time intelligence on the PKK in northern Iraq via Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), U2 spy planes and satellites.

The total US withdrawal from Iraq in December of this year will also mean that Washington has to pull out its intelligence assets deployed in this country, too. Since the command center of real time intelligence information transferred to Turkey is based in Iraq, the US has to terminate this command center as well. It will also mean the termination of the US’s supply of real time intelligence to Turkey. To overcome this problem, the US has proposed the creation of a real time intelligence command center in either Diyarbakır or Batman province in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern parts of Turkey. But Ankara reportedly was cool to that proposal due to concerns of sovereignty. This is despite the fact that the purpose of the US’s transfer of real time intelligence has been to support Turkey in its fight against the PKK in northern Iraq, posing a threat directly to Ankara.

Since Turkey has been open to hosting a command center for US real time intelligence assets, Washington has proposed not activating the systems — if the command center will be based in either Diyarbakır or Batman — before the systems are out of Turkey. In other words, the intelligence systems will become operational only in northern Iraqi territory, and not on Turkish soil. Ankara is understood to have rejected that offer, too.

The third alternative has been to seek Iraqi permission once the US forces withdraw from this country to maintain the real time intelligence command center in Bagdad. But the Iraqi government, which will come under Iraqi Kurdish pressure, is highly unlikely to allow the command center to continue functioning in its territory.

The total US pullout agreement signed with Iraq also envisages the handover of Iraqi airspace to the Iraqi government as well as a prohibition on Iraqi territory being used for staging assaults on neighboring countries. Since this agreement makes the Iraqi government responsible for preventing PKK infiltrations into Turkey via northern Iraq (this is despite the fact that PKK militants continue to infiltrate Turkey via northern Iraq) it also means that no country can stage assaults in Iraq. Thus, Turkey cannot send fighters in to Iraq to pursue the PKK.

Even if we suppose that Iraq will allow a real time intelligence command center to be maintained in Iraq, this will not solve the critical problem of the danger of “deconfliction.” Iraq does not have the capacity to prevent deconfliction of, for example, Turkish and other military as well as civilian aircraft flying in northern Iraq.

In the final analysis, uncertainties over the fate of the continuation of US real time intelligence to Turkey once the US finally pulls out all its forces in Iraq in December of this year are still there, pending resolution.

But I wish that all Turkish political actors would realize soon how pivotal a resolution to the Kurdish dispute is for Turkish normalization and democratization and that they will all find a common ground to solve this problem through non-military means. Then there will be no need for the US supply of intelligence.

Lale Kemal, TZ