Was Rice’s trip to Iraqi Kurdistan Deliberately Sabotaged?

So when we left off the story yesterday, US Secretary of State Condi Rice had just made a surprise visit to the northern oil city of Kirkuk, apparently to congratulate the provincial council for a move toward Kurdish-Arab reconciliation. But while Condi was doing that, the Turkish army invaded Iraq! And then the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Authority, Massoud Barzani angrily refused to meet Secretary Rice, saying that the US had given Turkey the ‘green light’ to attack Kurdistan and that the incursion was a ‘crime.’ I guess that means Barzani is calling Rice a criminal

Look, it is absolutely impossible that Condi plans out a trip to Kirkuk and a meeting with Barzani with full knowledge that while she is there, Turkey will send 500 Turkish soldiers into northern Iraq to occupy the villages of Kaya Retch Binwak, Janarok and Gelly Resh. Or even that when she set out on her trip, she knew that Turkey was planning to bomb Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday, killing 3, wounding 8, and displacing 300 Kurdish villagers. (Turkey maintained that these villages were havens for the Kurdish Workers Party guerrilla (PKK) guerrilla group, which Ankara accuses of making cross-border raids to kill dozens of Turkish troops in the past few months.)

So there are only two possibilities. The first is that this whole affair is a SNAFU. Let us imagine that the US military is concerned about Barzani helping PKK guerrillas kill NATO troops (yes, Turkey is in NATO and a close US ally for decades). They complain to Irbil and Barzani blows them off. And the US military takes a little revenge on Barzani by giving the Turks real time intelligence on PKK movements. The Turks interpret this gesture as a green light for them to attack Iraq. In the meantime, the State Department has set up a secret trip to Kirkuk and Irbil for Condi.

That could explain Sunday’s bombing raid, which was not a good omen for Rice’s trip. But it can’t explain Tuesday’s ground invasion, which is an obvious provocation and done after it became known that Rice was in Kirkuk.

So in my view Turkey is trying to drive a wedge between the US and Barzani, and Turkish chief of staff Yasar Buyukanit deliberately embarrassed Secretary Rice and ruined her trip to celebrate Kurdish-Arab reconciliation (a reconciliation that is not actually good news for Ankara, which does not want to see the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government annex Kirkuk).

If the bombing raid was also not a SNAFU but was a deliberate attempt to thwart Rice’s good feeling tour in Iraqi Kurdistan, then that would point to the Turkish military having received advance warning from someone in the US government about Rice’s secret trip. That is, it would point to spying. That in turn would raise the question of whether there are relatively high USG officials who had knowledge of her secret itinerary, and who have an interest in bolstering the ties of the US with the Turkish military at the expense of Washington’s de facto alliance with Barzani in Iraq. I’ll bet you State is looking into this fiasco as we speak and if you hear fairly soon that someone high in the department (or another department who has similar clearances) suddenly resigns to spend more time with his family, you can reasonably speculate that he was the source of a leak to Buyukanit–if indeed there was one.