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   Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis

Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2002

Jan. 13, 2003

NEW YORK - The Bush Administration arm-twisting Turkey's new government to allow the US to deploy up to 80,000 troops in eastern Anatolia. Their mission will be the invasion of northern Iraq.

Turkey's government, led by Justice and Development Party chairman Recep Erdogan and prime minister, Abdullah Gul, is caught in a savage dilemma. Ninety percent of Turkey's 67 million citizens strongly oppose any attack on Iraq.

Erdogan's moderate Islamic party recently won a landslide election victory due to public anger over the devastated economy, corruption, resentment against the heavy-handed role of the intrusive Turkish military, which has long been the real `deep power' behind a thin fašade of democratic government, and opposition to war against Iraq. Erdogan, the most popular and promising Turkish leader in decades, has gotten off to a commendable start by trying to settle the thorny Cyprus problem by backing the current, sensible UN peace plan, and normalizing relations with old foe, Greece.

But US pressure on Turkey, NATO's faithful eastern bastion, keeps mounting. Bankrupt Turkey is being offered US $18 billion in new aid, on top of $16 billion given over the past two years, plus $400 million to build new military bases in Turkey, cut-rate aircraft, and new weapons systems. The Bush Administration is warning Turkey it will no longer have America's support in its efforts to enter the EU if Ankara does not cooperate. Pentagon number two Paul Wolfowitz and State Dept. heavyweight Marc Grossman are spearheading efforts to enlist Turkey in the impending war.

Turkey's fiercely anti-Islamic generals, who command NATO's second largest armed forces - 515,000 very tough troops - would be expected to support war against Iraq. They are closely liked to Israel's far right Likud Party by ideology and a web of covert business dealings.

But the cautious chief of staff, Gen. Hilmi Ozok, is keeping a low profile and deferring to the civilian government. The generals are nervous over Iraq and fear public wrath if they openly try to browbeat the first genuinely popular government in memory. The EU has warned Turkey's generals they must refrain from pressuring the elected government or lose any chance to join Europe.

Meanwhile, Turkey's Arab neighbors are furious at Ankara for its close strategic alliance with Israel. Iraq and Syria accuse Turkey of diverting half the upstream water of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. If Turkey aids any invasion of Iraq, its commercial and political interests in the Arab world will suffer.

But Turkey is also being drawn into Iraq by two powerful impulses. First, Turkey has no oil. The heavy cost of importing oil has undermined Turkey's feeble economy. Two of Iraq's great oilfields - around Mosul and Kirkuk - lie within 150 km of Turkey's eastern border. Turkey has long dreamed of recovering these oil deposits, which Imperial Britain snatched away from the dying Ottoman Empire in the 1920's by creating the artificial, London-run kingdom of Iraq. Last week, Turkey's foreign minister, Yasar Yakis, called for his nation to seize Mosul and Kirkuk if Iraq was invaded. PM Gul immediately contradicted him, but the cat was out of the bag.

Mosul and Kirkuk are the crux of secret negotiations to bring Turkey into the war. Washington has so far offered Turkey partial control and exploitation rights of these fields, and high transit fees for Iraq oil exports. The US has also offered Russia and France drilling rights in northern Iraq if they support the war. In short, division of the spoils.

The second impulse: the intractable Kurdish problem. Turkey is dead set against creation of any independent Kurdish state - or states - in northern Iraq, and remains deeply troubled by the two mini-Kurdish statelts created by the US in 1991. Ankara has just suppressed a long, bloody rebellion in eastern Anatolia by its own Kurds, who comprise 20% of Turkey's population, and fears, with reason, a pan-Kurdish movement in Iraq will reignite Kurdish nationalism in Turkey.

Some 10,000 Turkish troops are already in northern Iraq. Washington has promised Ankara US troops will prevent Iraq's Kurds from declaring an independent state - a cynical position for a nation that hails self-determination as a right of man. Washington has also promised its Arab clients Iraq will not be divided. Washington is thus eager to have US troops based in eastern Turkey, from where they will occupy Mosul and Kirkuk, thus putting the oil under American control and preempting Turkey from annexing northern Iraq.

Erdogan is trying to weave his way through this minefield. If he refuses to obey US demands, Washington could pull his loans, just as Washington threatened Pakistan with economic death in September, 2001 if it did not cooperate with the invasion of Afghanistan. Arms deliveries could be cut off, and the moderate Islamic AK party even branded terrorists. The same generals who had Erdogan jailed for two years just for reciting a 19th century poem deemed too Islamic could stage another coup. Yet if Erdogan caves in and joins the war against Iraq, his people may disown him and his party as stooges of the generals and their American patrons.

Turkey is stalling, saying it will wait for the Security Council to rule on Iraq before making a final decision. Washington is most displeased. Ankara is holding up the US-Israeli-British war against Iraq.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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