OPINION

Turkey’s Iraq troops

The difficulties facing American forces in bringing Iraq under their control has plunged Ankara back into the diplomatic game from which it had been sidelined after the crisis in relations with Washington last spring. Early in the Iraq war, Turkey objected to the transit of US troops – which was part of American efforts to open a northern front against Baghdad – through its territory. Ankara had not only requested huge amounts of economic aid but also demanded a decisive role in northern Iraq. The United States then rejected Turkish demands, for they knew that conceding to them would cause turmoil. The Kurds had given them an early warning. Ankara, however, erroneously believed that the US would not launch a war without Turkish military aid and did not back down. Subsequent developments put paid to these Turkish expectations. Ankara lost both the economic aid package and the chance to play a political role in northern Iraq, while US-Turkish relations suffered a serious blow. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. It turns out that the US forces were caught up in a minefield, so to speak. The American public is beginning to realize that the hard part was not the overthrow of Saddam Hussein but the day after. Pressure on US President George W. Bush is mounting. In its effort to control the situation in postwar Iraq, Washington asked Ankara to send 10,000 troops, offering in exchange a $8.5 billion aid package and a pledge to dissolve PKK bases in northern Iraq. Despite public opposition, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan managed to win parliamentary approval. Turkey’s General Staff had originally backed the decision, under the condition that its troops would be deployed in northern Iraq. The generals think this will enable them to influence developments – allowing them to prevent the recognition of a Kurdish state but also to secure a stake in the oil fields of Mosul and Kirkuk. But as the US-appointed interim Iraq Governing Council showed, the Turks are unwanted not only in northern Iraq, but all over the country. Memories of the long Ottoman occupation are still vivid in the area. Turkish expansionism is another concern. However, Washington needs the Turkish forces and plans to deploy them in central Iraq. Officially, the case is still open, but it is indicative of the situation that the military bureaucracy there accused Erdogan’s government of succumbing to American pressure only to ensure US economic aid.