[A-List] Turkey: opening the northern front

Sabri Oncu soncu at pacbell.net
Sat Feb 1 20:54:28 MST 2003


Turkey moving toward allowing U.S. troops in for Iraq, but
government still worried
Sat Feb 1, 1:09 PM ET

By JAMES C. HELICKE, Associated Press Writer

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Turkey's leaders have taken a huge step toward
allowing U.S. soldiers in Turkey for a possible attack on
neighboring Iraq, but they still face a battle to get parliament
to back the deployment.

Turkey's top civilian and military leaders Friday endorsed basing
foreign troops in the country — a move that could open the way
for U.S. soldiers to use Turkey as a base for military action
against Iraq.

But the final decision rests with a parliament that
overwhelmingly opposes war, and the government still hasn't made
any promises on when the messy issue of U.S. troops will come to
the floor of parliament.

The lack of a date worries Washington, which is pressing its
predominantly Muslim NATO (news - web sites)-ally for a quick
decision so it can follow through with its plans for a possible
war.

"There still hasn't been any type of guarantee from Turkey," a
U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said Saturday.
"The ambassador told Prime Minister (Abdullah) Gul Thursday that
time is running out."

The United States reportedly has asked Turkey, a staging point
for air raids during the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites), for
permission to base up to 80,000 soldiers in Turkey. But Turkey's
government says a war could destabilize the entire region and
endanger its fragile economic recovery — all of which alarm
Turkey's public and politicians.

Turkey's powerful National Security Council called Friday for
parliament to empower the government to send soldiers abroad and
open Turkish bases to foreign troops. The move by the council —
grouping the president, top members of the government, and
influential generals — was widely seen as a move toward hosting
U.S. troops.

Cabinet is likely to discuss the measures this week. However,
there are still questions about when Turkey will make a final
decision about hosting U.S. troops for a war.

Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, for example, said Saturday the
Council decision only meant allowing a small number of U.S.
soldiers to come and upgrade Turkish bases and ports, but denied
it meant opening its doors to U.S. war troops.

"If that's needed, there will be a separate decision," Yakis told
reporters.

The United States wants to upgrade several Turkish military sites
for possible use in a war.

Analysts say that allowing the repairs to go forward amounts to
commitment to the war effort and that Yakis' remarks carry
political significance. Opinion polls show more than 80 percent
of Turks oppose any war.

The government, founded by a populist party with Islamic roots,
has been insisting that a peaceful solution be found.

"There will be no way to stop the Americans now," said Hasan
Koni, a professor of international relations at Ankara
University. "If they (members of parliament) act according to
their Islamic feelings they know they're going to be doomed."

The staunchly secular military has carried out three coups in
Turkey and in 1997 pressured a pro-Islamic government out of
power.

If hard-liners in the party refuse to support the United States
the party could divide, Koni added.

"They cannot go against (the Council's) decision," said Koni.
"The military has the more powerful voice."


+++++++++++++++

Turkey struggles with U.S. demand for support, fearing regional
chaos and economic decline
Sat Feb 1,12:30 AM ET

By LOUIS MEIXLER, Associated Press Writer

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Turkish leaders fear that a war with Iraq
could kill off the country's crucial tourism industry, re-ignite
a brutal rebellion that left thousands dead in its Southeast,
provoke tensions with Iran and potentially split the ruling
party.

But failing to back a war in Iraq could be a worse disaster for
Turkey, which counts on the United States as one of its few
reliable allies, and has turned to Washington for economic aid to
support its struggling economy.

Turkey's powerful National Security Council, which groups the
country's military and political leaders, took a first step
Friday toward approving the basing of U.S troops in the country,
calling for parliament to authorize the stationing of foreign
troops in Turkey.

The Council's statement now puts the spotlight on Turkish Prime
Minister Abdullah Gul, who must try and convince skeptical
legislators to support the U.S. troop presence and a war in Iraq
as the better of two unpopular choices.

"It is urgent that Turkey makes up its mind whether to allow the
U.S. to come to Turkey or not," wrote Ilnur Cevik,
editor-in-chief of the Turkish Daily News. "This is where
Abdullah Gul's nightmare starts."

It's a decision that Gul has been trying to avoid.

"Iraq is like Pandora's box," Gul said. "This box should not be
opened."

An overwhelming majority of Turks oppose a war and legislators
from Gul's Justice and Development Party have repeatedly spoken
against participating in a war. Gul himself frequently emphasizes
that there should be a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Diplomats have angrily pointed out that legislators have done
little to prepare the public for the possibility that part of the
war effort would be based in their country.

Some analysts fear that the ruling party, which has Islamic
roots, could split, with hardliners refusing to endorse a war
against fellow Muslims in Iraq.

"There is a potential for serious resistance," said Soner
Cagaptay, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy.

Experts say that Turkey's US$10 billion tourism industry could be
devastated if there is a war, possibly derailing the country's
emergence from its worse recession in decades.

The military fears that Iraq will fall apart if Saddam Hussein
(news - web sites) is ousted, leading Kurds in the north to
declare independence. That could encourage Kurds in Turkey's
southeast, where Kurdish rebels and soldiers battled throughout
the 1980s and most of the 1990s.

"Iraq should not disintegrate because it would be impossible to
put everyone back into that box again," Gul said.

Turkey has hinted strongly that it will send soldiers into
northern Iraq to undermine any chance of a Kurdish state forming.

But that could lead to future tensions with the region's other
powerhouse, Iran, which also sees northern Iraq as in its own
sphere of influence.

"Right now, Iran and Turkey are allies in trying to make sure
that a Kurdish state is not established," Cagaptay said.

"Iran would be happy for us to do the dirty work for them," added
Seyfi Tashan the director of the Foreign Policy Institute in
Ankara.

But instability in the area could lead to later tensions between
the neighbors, with secular Turkey and Islamic Iran competing for
influence.

Analysts say that Turkey has little choice but to agree to at
least limited support for an Iraq campaign.

"The consequences of Turkey not being involved in a campaign
against Iraq are simply too terrible to imagine," Cevik wrote.

Ignoring U.S. demands could alienate Turkey's best ally at a time
when Turkey is counting on Washington to help it press for its
case for European Union (news - web sites) membership.

Turkish leaders are also concerned that if they do not help in a
war, they will be cut out of the postwar planning and unable to
influence the creation of a new Iraq.

In addition, Turkey might not be able to count on U.S. aid in
securing loans to prop up its economy.

If Turkey takes part in a war "Turkey's influence in the region
will grow. It will be able to get more easily the things it seeks
from Washington," wrote columnist Mehmet Ali Birand in the
Turkish Daily News.

"If it does not take part ... when Ankara calls Washington on the
phone... these calls will not be returned."







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