Where the Turks Are — and Aren't — in Kurdistan

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The Turkish government says they're not here. The Turkish military says they are, and the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan say they aren't and never will be. It's still unclear whether any Turkish troops have entered northern Iraq, in open defiance of the United States and Europe, and if so where they are. So I spent a couple of days this weekend driving around the mountains of far northern Iraq looking for myself.

In Barmani, a village in the northwest of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Turkish presence is blatant. Just on the side of the road, about 20 tanks rest in an abandoned military airport, many covered with tarps. A few bored Turkish soldiers sit watching the cars drive by. But this is not the Turkish invasion the Kurds have been fearing — these troops have been here since 1996, when they came to fight the Kurdish Workers Party, the famed PKK, who had taken refuge here in Iraq. The PKK is long gone from this part of Kurdistan but the Turkish troops have remained, for reasons unclear. The Kurdish authorities have asked them to leave but lack the military muscle to make them. Everyone in Barmani, a village of 100 farming families, hates them. But the villagers said no one new had shown up.

The soldiers don't mix with the local population, and can't even communicate — most of the soldiers speak only Turkish, and the locals just Kurdish and Arabic. "We don't like them, the Turkish government is the most brutal in the world," said one resident, Fadhil Tomar. "After the war, if they don't leave the peshmerga will come and kick them out." At that, a pickup sped up with a couple of Turkish soldiers and a Kurdish-Turkish translator. We were asked to leave.

A little to the east is Amedi, a vacation spot for Iraqi Kurds because of its dramatic location perched at the top of a peak. There the Turkish presence is also obvious. In what looks like it used to be a parking lot right in the middle of town, between the vegetable bazaar and the local police station, are a handful of Turkish tanks and 20 or so soldiers. We ask a policeman if there had been any new arrivals. "No," he said. "No one here would accept them."

I finally ended up in Duhok, the biggest city in the region, and at the hotel I met other journalists who had been on their own searches — all futile. I can't say that we covered all the spots the Turks may be hidden, but the rumor mill in Kurdistan can report news faster than CNN. If there had been a Turkish incursion up the road, the people of Barmani, Amedi or Duhok would have heard about it.