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An ‘Iraq winter’ haunts Turkey

>From today's Daily Star (Lebanon)

An ‘Iraq winter’ haunts Turkey 
Western hints of a campaign against saddam unsettle ankara 
Mohammed Noureddine 
Special to The Daily Star

Almost all the people I met in Baghdad said the United States will not hesitate to hit Iraq hard ­ 
but not so hard as to overthrow the regime and replace it with a pro-Western government. 

Iraqi sources believe the lack of any evidence linking Baghdad to the attacks of Sept. 11, or to 
the subsequent outbreak of anthrax, will not deter the Americans from targeting Iraq. They cite 
several reasons for this: 

The Western alliance against Afghanistan has failed to achieve anything up to now. The “war on 
terror” hasn’t managed either to kill Osama bin Laden or to unseat the Taleban. Washington, 
therefore, will try to compensate for this failure somewhere else, and what easier target is there 
than Iraq? Winter is just around the corner, which makes it very hard for the US to maintain its 
air offensive ­ and even harder for it to launch a ground offensive ­ in the freezing Afghan cold. 

The Americans need to divert attention somewhere else: to Iraq, where milder weather does not 
impede military operations, and to the American yearning to “finish” what former President George 
Bush began in Iraq ­ the overthrow of the government of Saddam Hussein. 

Therefore, Iraqis feel, this winter will be an eventful one in Baghdad. But once the cold season is 
over, and whatever the results of the anticipated US strike, the Americans will leave Iraq to 
resume their onslaught against Afghanistan with greater force. That does not mean, of course, that 
military operations against the Afghans will, in the meantime, cease completely. 

These Iraqi predictions seem plausible, especially if the words of NATO Secretary-General George 
Robertson are taken into account. Robertson declared, “it is unclear whether bin Laden on his own 
was responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington.” In a clear reference to Iraq, the NATO 
official said, “the Americans say that they have no proof yet of a link between Osama bin Laden and 
Iraq. If such a link was discovered, however, then the international community will consider 
whether to launch a military operation (against Baghdad).” Such words cast doubts on what the US 
(and NATO) said earlier, namely that only bin Laden was responsible for Sept. 11. 

Add to this William Safire’s advice to the Turkish government (The New York Times, Nov. 5): Safire 
wrote: “… I’d make a deal with Ankara right now to move across Turkey’s border and annex the 
northern third of Iraq. Most of it is in Kurdish hands already, in our no-fly zone ­ but the land 
to make part of Turkey is the oil field around Kirkuk that produces nearly half of Saddam Hussein’s 
oil. Northern Iraq could be good for nearly two million barrels a day, and the European Union (EU) 
would fall all over itself welcoming in the Turks.” Robertson’s surprise announcement together with 
Safire’s article raise big question marks in Turkey about whether the NATO secretary-general was 
laying the groundwork for an attack on Iraq. Turkish interest ­ concern, even ­ was so great that 
the General Staff asked for a full transcript of Robertson’s remarks (which he made to Qatar’s 
Al-Jazeera satellite channel) in order to analyze exactly what he said. 

Concern about possible developments in Iraq was not restricted to the Turkish military either. 
Turkish politicians expressed their anxieties as well. In comments which generated a great deal of 
interest, Premier Bulent Ecevit said two weeks ago that any attack on Iraq designed to overthrow 
the Baghdad regime would lead to the fragmentation not only of Iraq, but of Turkey as well, and 
turn all the balances in the Middle East upside down. 

Ecevit and his supporters who oppose attacking Iraq base their concerns on the fact that Turkey’s 
participation in the anti-Iraq coalition during the 1991 Gulf War cost the country anything between 
$30-$40 billion. These losses are ongoing, moreover, since Iraq is still under sanctions. More 
importantly, instability in Iraq will help the Kurds lay the foundations of an independent state, a 
state that began to take shape after the Gulf War. 

Iraq is somewhat stable now thanks to an equilibrium accepted by Turkey; the overthrow of Saddam 
Hussein, however, might lead to divisions the prime beneficiaries of which would be the Kurds in 
establishing an independent state. This is a red line the Turks are simply not willing to 
contemplate, much less tolerate. Turkey waged a 15-year war against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) 
rebels; thousands lost their lives and billions of dollars were spent in order to prevent the 
secession of southern Anatolia. How can the Turks now be expected to tolerate a Kurdish state on 
their southern border? In fact, preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity and preventing the rise of 
any sort of independent Kurdish existence in northern Iraq are the bedrocks of Turkish policy 
vis-a-vis Baghdad. There are even those who believe that Turkey only agreed to participate in the 
war against Afghanistan (Ankara agreed to send 90 elite special forces soldiers to northern 
Afghanistan) in order to strike a bargain with the Americans: we will support you in Afghanistan so 
long as you promise not to attack Iraq. 

The Turks are trying their best to distance Iraq from the US agenda. But Ankara will be faced with 
difficult choices if the Americans decided Baghdad had to be targeted at some later stage. The 
question then will not be whether Washington will strike, but how strongly. Turkish actions will 
depend on the answer to this question. 

If the US attack (however massive) wasn’t designed to unseat Saddam Hussein, then the Turks won’t 
be overly concerned. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarek Aziz recently said the Americans will target 
300 sites in his country with a salvo of 1,000 missiles. 

Saddam Hussein’s son Uday (who runs Iraq’s Babel daily) begs to disagree. He says the missile 
attack mentioned by Aziz will only be a prelude for a devastating onslaught in which Turkey will 
play a major part. 

In an analytical piece Babel printed a few days ago (entitled Palestine-Afghanistan-Iraq), Uday 
(under the pseudonym Abdullah Mohammed al-Sagar) wrote that the US will order Turkey to launch an 
armored offensive in northern Iraq, and bomb Iraqi military units in Kirkuk and Mosul using 
warplanes based at the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey. The Kurds will then attack the cities 
of Kirkuk and Mosul with the help of the Turkish army. 

In the south, Uday writes, the Americans will intervene to separate oil-rich Basra from the rest of 
Iraq. These operations will be carried out under the pretext of creating a “buffer zone” ­ rather 
than “division,” which would cause concern in the Arab states of the Gulf. 

It is obvious, therefore, that the Iraqis are expecting an American strike designed to change the 
balance of power on the ground. These expectations tie in with information from Turkish military 
sources suggesting that if profound changes were contemplated for Iraq, then Ankara cannot afford 
to sit on the sidelines. 

In fact, Turkish intervention will not be limited (like it usually has been) to a small strip in 
the north. This time, the Turkish army will penetrate to a distance of up to 150 kilometers inside 
Iraq, occupying all the highlands of the north down to Kirkuk and Mosul. There are reasons for this 
course of action: 
* To occupy all Kurdish areas to prevent a mass migration of refugees as happened in 1991. 
* To put the whole of Iraqi Kurdistan under Turkish control in order to manipulate its political 
future and prevent the Kurds from declaring independence. 
* To seize the oil fields of Kirkuk and Mosul ­ either permanently or at least partly through an 
agreement with a future pro-Western government in Baghdad. Controlling the oil fields would also 
give Ankara a strong bargaining position in any future negotiations with Baghdad about the role 
Turkish companies will play in investment in Iraq. 

Iraq is waiting. So is Turkey, and so are we. 

Mohammed Noureddine is an expert on Turkish affairs


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