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Out With the US, In With the Turks

The Turkish Grand National Assembly, in failing to approve the economic assistance package to be provided to Turkey by the US in return for American troops using Turkish soil for an attack on Iraq, also failed to authorize Turkey's army to enter northern Iraq. The Turkish constitution requires a parliamentary vote to send the country's armed forces outside its own borders. With this not being approved, the dynamics of the impending war have changed.

At greatest issue in northern Iraq for the US, of course, are the oil fields of Kirkuk; but they are not the whole story. It would be fair to say that most everyone who actually lives in the region is at least as concerned about the post-Saddam Hussein political order in Iraq, specifically whether the country will be federal or unitary.

It was in the attempt to calm Kurdish fears of Turkish occupation, in particular, that President George W Bush's special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad--a protege of deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz who cut his teeth on constructing post-conflict regimes in Afghanistan--met with the assembled Iraqi opposition in northern Iraq this past weekend. Khalilzad's mission was part of the hesitation-waltz between Turkey and the US leading up to the assembly vote on the American economic assistance package, which, unexpectedly, failed to win Turkish parliamentary approval.

From the American perspective, Khalilzad's most important tasks were to dissuade the opposition from forming a body that could be taken to represent a provisional government and to get them to acquiesce in a Turkish military incursion. On both counts he was less than successful.

Concerning the first of these, the opposition established a leadership council that styles itself as the nucleus of a post-Saddam government, rather than just an advisory council that might work with an American viceroy. Indeed, inside Iraq the opposition is spinning this as suggesting parallel civilian and military administrations. Concerning the second matter, important despite the final statement's relatively soft language, elements within the Iraqi opposition strongly object to any Turkish intervention at all. In fact, Khalilzad's language that the Turkish military role would be "fully coordinated" with the American presence, and that the Turkish army would leave when the Americans did, contains enough holes to drive a truck through.

Full coordination does not exclude autonomy: the military planning done within the framework of the US-Turkish agreement put before the Turkish assembly foresaw 80,000 Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq--more than twice the number of Americans--as well as Turkish (or joint US-Turkish) supervision of the subsequent disarmament of the Kurdish forces to be armed by the Americans to assist in the first stages of the war.

If the US is now limited to leapfrogging airborne divisions into northern Iraq from the Gulf, which press reports have long suggested to be the American "Plan B", then American troops will be far less numerous than the 40,000 they planned for ground insertion via eastern Turkey. Moreover, with the Ankara parliament's rejection of the terms of the US-Turkish agreement, the American engineering enhancements projected for Turkish bases, which were intended to permit the more rapid transit of US troops through Turkey into Iraq, will not be completed in time if they are completed at all. This constellation of events raises the interesting possibility that, should the Turkish parliament approve a Turkish role in northern Iraq after the de facto leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is elected from the Siirt constituency this weekend and becomes prime minister, then the ratio of Turkish to American troops on the ground in northern Iraq will be far greater than two-to-one.

If the US arms the Kurds, as foreseen in the first stages of the invasion, and if Turkey decides after Erdogan forms a government that he could present the motion on military cooperation to parliament again, then the subsequent Turkish introduction of troops into northern Iraq would only enhance the probability of Turkish-Kurdish clashes in the north, where the US may not have the troops effectively available to separate them or establish a ceasefire.

In conclusion, one should take note of a secret seldom whispered in the English-language press, that even today there are exiled Iraqi parties that are not sympathetic to the projected American intervention. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a body representing Shi'ite Arabs in southern Iraq and participating in the meetings with Khalilzad but which objected to language "welcoming" American troops, is is one such party. Islamic Call, another Shi'ite group but not present at the Khalilzad meeting, is another. (Islamic Call is also called "Da'wa" in English-language reports, after its Arabic name "al-Da'wa al-Islamiyya".) The Iraqi Communist Party, which was the largest Iraqi party before Saddam achieved power, also opposes US intervention. Finally, even the Kurdistan Democratic Party is split, with memories of previous US betrayals of the Kurds in uprisings in 1975 and 1991 motivating some of its leaders to oppose American intervention if a Turkish invasion is inseparable from it. It is to be noted that these parties represent non-Sunni ethnic groups in the north and south of the country. They may be counted on, especially the Kurds, to insist strongly on a federal post-Saddam Iraq.

Washington, meanwhile, seems split between those for whom "nation-building" has passed from political anathema to political practice (if not doctrine) on the one hand, and on the other hand, those who would be happy merely to replace the several dozen super-elite of the Iraqi leadership--many of whom are linked to Saddam by kinship and clan ties--while leaving the unitary Saddamite state apparatus more or less intact and carrying over the vast majority of its officials into the post-Saddam era. Such a political design, however, does not qualify as "regime change": it amounts to nothing less than a coup d'etat.

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URL:  http://www.robertcutler.org/blog/2003/03/out_with_the_us_in_with_the_tu.html
First published by Asia Times OnLine, 07 March 2003.

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