Turkey and Iraq
Although Turkey is rumored to have acquiesced in a US attack on Iraq,
assuming it is paid billions of dollars up front for its economic losses on
the Iraq front, it is clear that substantial questions remain in the minds of
Turkish politicians about this course. Given the instability of the current
government, moreover, there is no guarantee that Prime Minister Bulent
Ecevit’s views will be determinative later on.
Even Ecevit himself gave two news interviews reported on
Sunday 7/22 that seem to me extremely significant for the prospects of a
US attack on Iraq. The first warned the US that a major land invasion of
Iraq could produce a quagmire from which it would be difficult for the
Pentagon to extract itself. He also complained that the Kurds of the
north already have virtual autonomy from Baghdad courtesy of the US, and
that things should not be allowed to proceed further in that direction.
(Turkey is worried that Kurdish activism in Iraq will spill over into
Eastern Turkey, where an estimated 8 million Kurds live). The Turks are
said to be particularly insistent that the oild fields in the north not be
gerrymandered into Kurdish territory in a post-war Iraq. I read the
interview as very negative toward the Wolfowitz plan, despite the
apparent grudging acceptance of it, and it is
significant that it was released in the aftermath of Ecevit’s
consultations with Wolfowitz on an Iraq campaign.
Ecevit made news with another set of remarks, about the prospects of the
Islamist AK [Justice and Development] Party if elections are held this
fall. Ecevit wants them postponed until much later, even the April 2004
date for the next elections. It seems unlikely he can keep his government
from falling, however. He is pushing hard for setting in motion a Turkish
bid to join the European Union. For that, he needs to abolish the death
penalty and lighten up on the Kurds. However, he is in coalition with a
far-right nationalist party that bitterly opposes both steps.
Polling published last Thursday shows that the Islamist AK Party could
capture 20 percent of seats if elections are held soon, and Ecevit’s
center-left party would get almost nothing. This result might set in
motion a repeat of the mid-1990s, with an AK coalition with the
center-right Motherland Party. AK has been reformulated by its leader,
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as a modernist Muslim party, in favor of human
rights and in favor of joining the European Union (a more traditionalist
successor to the old Refah Party also exists, but it is not nearly as
popular). Ironically, AK and Motherland could probably get the changes
made together, which Ecevit is pushing for but cannot.
In any case, a very strong showing by AK in the polls, if they are held
this fall, could place a further obstacle in the way of Turkey joining the
US in an attack on Iraq, since the Turkish Islamists are deadset against
it. If Motherland goes back into coalition with them, they could just
make the government fall if it capitulates on Iraq.
Ecevit also admitted that the Kurdish party, HADEP, might also meet the
threshold for getting seats in parliament. That he is so worried about
this possibility may help explain why he doesn’t want the Iraqi Kurds
stirred up at this juncture. An unspoken assumption may also be that a
US-dominated Iraq will give the Iraqi Kurds so much cultural and political
freedom (and perhaps new economic resources if Iraqi oil receipts are shared more
equitably) that Turkey’s own repressive policies will look increasingly bad
by comparison, and will become increasingly unsustainable. In the view of
the Turkish political elite, culturally and politically free Kurds would
inevitably threaten Turkey’s territorial integrity in eastern Anatolia.
It continues to be rather puzzling why, if Iraq’s close neighbors do not
consider it much of a threat, the Pentagon is so insistent on attacking
it. One would think that since Iraq has no ICBMs but does have Scuds, the
neighbors would be the ones with the greatest concerns. Instead, they are
fairly consistent in speaking out against such a war. Even Kuwait says it
wants the fig leaf of a Security Council Resolution if it is to join the
US in such a war. Does the US have the votes on the Security Council?
Russia, France, and China would all have at the least to decline to
exercise a veto.