Explosive ingredients: Turkey has its own agenda in Iraq
February 13, 2003
US plans to invade Iraq via Turkey, a key part of George Bush's war strategy,
look increasingly likely to trigger a conflagration in Kurdish areas potentially
involving Turkish, American, Kurdish, Iraqi and even Iranian forces. Turkey,
which already maintains troops in northern Iraq, is moving heavy armour and
reinforcements to its south-eastern border.
Ankara says its aim is to protect ethnic Turkmens and stem a 1991-type refugee
exodus. But it makes no secret of its intention to seize a large swath of Iraqi
territory once war begins. Preventing Kurdish control of the oil centres of
Mosul and Kirkuk is one objective. Another is discouraging any Kurdish bid for
Ankara's insistence on having a free hand in Iraq and its refusal to place its
forces under US command, are among several conditions placed on the urgent US
request to deploy up to 40,000 American invasion troops. Turkey also wants
billions in aid, loans and compensation. The US, keen to get Saddam at almost
any cost and whatever the consequences for the Kurds, seems likely to agree.
Faced by a large-scale Turkish incursion (of possibly indefinite duration) in
the wake of an American advance, Kurdish forces can be expected to fight.
A senior Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader, Barham Salah, made that much clear
this week when he warned that Turkish intervention could encourage that of Iran.
"The best thing the neighbours can do is stay out, as any country entering Iraq
could draw in others," he said.
Yesterday, Kurdish separatists led by the jailed Abdullah Ocalan threatened to
end their 1999 ceasefire and resume attacks inside Turkey.
For different reasons, Washington-sponsored Iraqi opposition groups who hope to
govern a post-Saddam Iraq and who currently maintain an alliance of convenience
with the Kurds will also resist any perceived threat to Iraq's territorial
integrity, from whatever source. And as if this explosive mix
were not enough to give the US pause, all this assumes that Saddam's forces in
the area either surrender or are swiftly destroyed.
These complex developments help clarify one issue at least. This week's furious
Nato row was not about "defending" Turkey at all, as the US claims. As Turkey
says, it is well able to protect itself. It was primarily about Washington's
efforts to induce Nato to provide back-up for US and Turkish
forces invading Iraq. Seen in this light, the objections raised by France and
others are entirely proper.