|Turkey, Kurds highlight rift in US
By Jeffrey Donovan
WASHINGTON - Turkey looks set finally to agree
to allow US troops to be deployed in the country for
possible use in an attack on neighboring Iraq. But
Washington's deal with Ankara is already pointing out
possible dangerous divisions on the ground in America's
alliance to topple Saddam Hussein.
with worldwide opposition to a war in Iraq, Washington
is now struggling to keep bickering among partners in
its "anti-Saddam alliance" from spilling over into
Analysts say that an emerging
deal allowing as many as 62,000 US troops to deploy to
southern Turkey could set the stage for a potential
clash between pro-US Turkish troops and Kurdish militias
should Washington invade northern Iraq from Turkey in a
bid to topple Saddam.
Besides providing Ankara
with an aid package worth at least US$15 billion, the
deal would also reportedly concede to Turkey one of its
main demands - the right to send into Kurdish-controlled
northern Iraq tens of thousands of its own troops,
ostensibly to prevent Kurdish refugees from flowing
north in the event of war and secure it own borders.
But Turkey's real concern, said Peter W
Galbraith, a former US ambassador and one of
Washington's top experts on the Kurds, is to keep the
Kurds from trying to establish an independent state
during the chaos of war. This could potentially reignite
Kurdish separatism in Turkey.
"Since the Kurds
control the north [of Iraq], there isn't going to be a
refugee flow. The north is not going to be involved in
the war; there won't be fighting there, very likely. And
so it's pretty obvious to the Kurds, and I think their
judgment in correct, that the Turkish purpose is to
intimidate them," Galbraith said.
has long had some military presence in northern Iraq to
hunt separatist Kurdish guerrillas, is also concerned
about Kurds seeking to claim the oil-rich cities of
Mosul and Kirkuk.
The Iraqi Kurds have vowed to
respect the territorial integrity of Iraq and promised
not to march on Mosul or Kirkuk. And this week, the
Kurdish parliament in Arbil called on Washington to
prevent Turkish troops in a war from marching into their
area, which enjoys autonomy from Baghdad and is
protected by US and British jets.
Aliriza, a Turkish-born analyst at Washington's Center
for Strategic and International Studies, said the Kurds
are unlikely to get their way. In fact, Aliriza said the
deal - expected to be voted on by the Turkish parliament
this week - apparently includes a US pledge to prevent
any Kurdish march into Mosul or Kirkuk.
Aliriza said the potential for clashes between Turks -
who he believes will not be under Washington's direct
command - and Kurdish militias numbering more than
100,000 troops is high. "They can do the 'ostrich act'
at the White House, but this is spinning out of control
at the other end. Two would-be allies of the United
States are slinging arrows at each other across the
border, even before the war [begins]," he said.
Galbraith, who in the 1980s helped to uncover
and document Iraqi military atrocities against Kurds,
had similar concerns. "If the Turkish army approaches
Kurdish population centers, I'm very worried that there
will be clashes, and the United States might have to be
in the position of being peacekeepers between our
Kurdish allies and our Turkish allies. And that will not
be very helpful."
In an indication of just how
sensitive the issue is, the administration of US
President George W Bush has refused to discuss the
military details of its offer to Ankara - despite freely
discussing the financial side of it, which reportedly
includes at least $5 billion in grants and $10 billion
in loan guarantees.
Asked at a briefing about
Turkish troops occupying northern Iraq's Kurdish areas,
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "The position
of the United States is unequivocal - that the
territorial integrity of Iraq should be honored."
But Aliriza said Washington may be hard-pressed
to live up to the concessions it appears to have made to
Turkey, which Washington needs to launch a second front
to bolster its main military thrust, expected to come
from the Persian Gulf region.
Among the sticking
points for the Bush administration, Aliriza said, is a
demand that the Kurds return small arms provided to them
by Washington for the conflict as soon as the war is
over. "At the practical level, preventing a Kurdish
entry into Mosul and Kirkuk, and even collecting the
guns from the Kurdish guerrillas, is going to be very
difficult to achieve. And of course, then the Turks may
feel obliged or driven to react. It's this trying to
balance the logistical requirements - which means making
concessions to the Turks - and the operational need to
work with the Kurds is just proving very difficult for
this administration. And that's even before a single
shot's been fired."
US ships carrying arms,
munitions, and supplies are waiting off the Turkish
Mediterranean coast for the Turkish parliament to give
the go-ahead to a motion submitted on Wednesday by the
government. The motion reportedly calls for opening the
country's ports and air bases to up to 62,000 "foreign
troops" for six months, as well as 255 warplanes and 65
Aliriza said Turkey, whose new
governing party with Islamic roots has opposed war, has
demanded that its troops outnumber US forces going into
Iraq. But Ankara, concerned about being viewed as a
"regional bully", says it doesn't want its troops to
fire a single shot in Iraq.
(©2003 RFE/RL Inc.
Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC