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Turkey's motivations for supporting a U.S.-led war in Iraq
Posted: Monday, February 24, 2003

by Erich Marquardt, yellowtimes.org

Despite the fact that nearly 90 percent of its population is opposed to war in Iraq, the Turkish government has offered support to Washington's attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power. There are several reasons for Ankara's decision.

Turkey has reluctantly come to accept that a U.S. attack on Iraq is likely. By not cooperating with the demands of the United States in the event of such a war, Turkey's long-term political and economic interests could be greatly damaged. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the majority Justice and Development Party (AK), explained Turkey's position: "If one is left out of the equation at the start of the operation, it may not be possible to be in a position to control developments at the end of the operation. Turkey's long-term interests and even security could be in jeopardy."

One of the "developments" that Turkey wants to control is the fate of northern Iraq. This area of Iraq is home to the region's Kurdish population, with the northern city of Kirkuk often referred to as "Kurdish Jerusalem." Both Mosul and Kirkuk are littered with natural resources, most notably rich oil fields. The Kurdish population of northern Iraq has been flirting with the idea of declaring an independent Kurdish state in the event of a power vacuum created after a crumbling of Saddam Hussein's military.

Ankara's biggest fear is that an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq would encourage Turkey's own Kurdish population to rise up and express solidarity with the new state of Kurdistan. Considering that Turkey's Kurdish population mainly resides in the southeastern border area separating Iraq and Turkey, Ankara is well aware that the Kurds may attempt to cede off the Turkish cities of Batman and Silvan as part of a Greater Kurdistan.

For this reason, Turkish troops are littered throughout northern Iraq to prevent Kurdish groups from gaining too much power. In the event of a U.S. attack on Iraq, these troops would end up participating in any conflict that develops in the area. Therefore, even if Ankara does not look favorably upon a war in Iraq, by not participating in such a conflict it would risk losing control over northern Iraq and be unable to suppress any independence movement amongst Iraqi Kurds.

Ankara has also floated the idea of pursuing actual legal claims over Kirkuk and Mosul, the two former Ottoman Empire cities ceded to Iraq in the 1920s. Nationalist sentiment inside Turkey claims that the country was stripped of their rights when pieces of the Ottoman Empire were broken off after World War I.

By making such tough statements, Ankara is warning Kurdish groups inside Iraq and southeastern Turkey that they will not allow an independent Kurdish state. By participating with Washington, the Turkish government is attempting to secure their control of political developments in northern Iraq. In addition to preventing a Kurdish rebellion, Turkey will also want to make sure that the new government in Iraq becomes a strong trading partner.

In addition to these motives, Turkey is also receiving generous offers by Washington in the form of economic favors, somewhere around $25 billion in direct aid, in return for their support of Washington's plans in Iraq; they've also received much in the way of military hardware. In return for their support of U.S. plans, the Turkish government has asked Washington for additional help with lobbying international agencies to grant Turkey loans to recover from its deep economic crisis. Ankara also claims it has lost 60 billion in trade since the end of the Gulf War in 1991 due to Iraq's destroyed infrastructure; to make up for these losses, Turkey may ask for a stake in Iraq's great oil wealth after Washington installs a new government in Baghdad.

On the other hand, Turkey needs to be wary of its own population that is sharply against cooperation with the United States. Turkey is also risking alienating itself from France and Germany, the two countries which have influence over whether Ankara's bid to join the European Union will be accepted. France and Germany have already clashed diplomatically with Turkey, when they initially would not go along with Turkey's request for early deployment of NATO military forces in the case of a possible conflict with Iraq. In order to appease its own population and European states, the Turkish president recently announced that his country would only allow U.S. troops to be deployed on Turkish territory if the United Nations passed a second resolution specifically authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

Turkey's role in Eurasia is unique: to the Western world Turkey represents the modernizing and secularizing path for other Middle Eastern countries to follow. Even geographically, Turkey straddles Europe and the Middle East. Because of this, Turkey is torn. Ankara needs to appease two opposing groups: the West and their Islamic Middle Eastern/Central Asian religious and cultural heritage. Such a balance is difficult to maintain, even more so when the leadership is leaning one way and the population another.

Despite these concerns, Ankara believes the only political choice it has is to offer support for a U.S. war in Iraq. Losing its territory to Kurdish separatist groups is simply not an option for the Turkish government. The potential peril lies in the possibility that a major Turkish invasion of northern Iraq would cause a regional crisis. Kurdish independence groups are also concentrated in northeastern Syria and western Iran, and any attempt to cede these regions as part of a Greater Kurdistan could involve troops from Syria and Iran moving into Iraq to stop any Kurdish rebellion, or to counter increased Turkish influence in the post-Saddam state. Adding to troop presence from the United States, northern Iraq could turn into a powder keg ready to explode.


[The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an analysis-based publication that seeks to, as objectively as possible, provide insight into various conflicts, regions and points of interest around the globe. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. PINR seeks to inform rather than persuade. This report may be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast provided that any such reproduction identifies the original source, http://www.pinr.com. All comments should be directed to content@pinr.com.]


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