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    Middle East
     Oct 20, 2007
US House waffles on genocide
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Amid rising bilateral tensions with Turkey and strong White House pressure, the Democratic leadership of the US House of Representatives is expected to set aside a controversial resolution recognizing as a "genocide" the mass killings of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had vowed to force a floor vote on the issue in the coming weeks, kept silent on the

matter Thursday, a number of key Democrats suggested that the symbolic resolution, which passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee 27-21 on a largely party-line vote one week ago, was, for all practical purposes, dead.

"If it came to the floor today," Representative John Murtha, a close Pelosi ally who was one of nearly dozen Democratic lawmakers who withdrew their co-sponsorship of the resolution this week, said late Wednesday, "it would not pass."

At the same time, Pelosi, a long-time champion of the resolution on behalf of thousands of Armenian-Americans who live in her northern California district, also conceded that she was reconsidering her pledge to bring the resolution to the floor.

If, as now expected, Pelosi withholds the measure until at least next year, it will mark a major victory for Turkey which, after the House Committee vote last week, recalled its ambassador here for "consultations" as the first of a series of possible measures designed both to convey its displeasure and, if necessary, inflict serious damage on Washington's position, especially in Iraq.

Of particular concern has been the possibility that Ankara might restrict access to its airspace and, in particular, to Incirlik Air Base in eastern Turkey, the single most important external logistics air hub for US military operations in Iraq.

Indeed, about 70% of all air cargo sent to Iraq passes through or crosses Turkey, as does some 30% of the fuel imported to the US military and virtually of its new, heavily-armored vehicles, according to the Pentagon.

Turkey severed all military ties with France after its parliament voted last year to make the denial of the Armenian "genocide" a crime, and it did nothing to discourage speculation here during the past week that it would take similar steps if the genocide resolution went forward.

"Having worked this issue in the last Bush administration (1989-1993), I don't think the Turks are bluffing," Pentagon chief Robert Gates told reporters here Thursday shortly after meeting the defense minister of Armenia, which has had very rocky relations with Ankara. Turkey has enforced a virtual blockade against Armenia since the early 1990.

"I will say again it has potential to do real harm to our troops in Iraq and would strain - perhaps beyond repair - our relationship with a key ally in a vital region and in the wider war on terror," added Gates, who has been the most outspoken cabinet-level official opposed to the resolution.

The possibility that it might restrict the use by the US military of Turkish territory and airspace is not the only concern faced by Washington about Ankara at the moment, however.

Increasingly frustrated by Washington's failure to either take direct action against Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas or persuade the Iraqi or Iraqi Kurdistan governments to do so, the Turkish parliament voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to authorize sending troops into northern Iraq to attack PKK units based there. The vote was 507 to 19, a margin that may have been inflated as a result of anger over the genocide resolution.

The PKK, which is considered by the US to be a terrorist group, has mounted a series of recent deadly actions against targets inside Turkey in recent weeks. At least 30 Turkish soldiers, police and civilians have been killed in PKK attacks in just the past two weeks, according to published reports.

While most analysts here and in Turkey do not expect the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to order a major cross-border operation in the near future, the fact that the parliament has now authorized such a move makes the threat far more credible.

Iraqi Kurdistan is the one region in Iraq that has been relatively stable - and thus has not required the presence of US troops - since the US occupation of the country began in 2003.

Any significant Turkish incursion, of the kind it carried out relatively routinely during the 1990s, could plunge the region into turmoil at a moment when US forces are already overstretched, according to analysts here who also noted that crude oil futures jumped to an all-time high of nearly 90 dollars a barrel after Wednesday's vote.

Moreover, the peshmerga - the Iraqi Kurdish militia forces that are nominally part of the Iraqi army and security forces - could well rally behind the PKK against the Turks in the event of a significant cross-border attack, others noted. Indeed, thousands of Kurds, mostly students, reportedly took part in rallies to protest the Turkish legislation in Irbil, Kurdistan's capital, Thursday.

It is in this context that mainly Democratic lawmakers who previously backed the Armenian genocide bill have been reassessing their position during the last few days.

"We need every ally we can get [in Iraq]," said Murtha, a co-sponsor of the resolution who has since withdrawn his support. "[Turkey is] important to our effort in Iraq. We've got 160,000 troops in Iraq. This is important to the US effort in Iraq, period."

"This is not the time to stick our finger in the eyes of the Turks," said Congressman Mike Ross, another former co-sponsor who switched his position this week.

Turkey has been aided as well by an expensive lobbying campaign organized and led by a former Republican speaker, Robert Livingstone, and Richard Gephardt, who, as the former Democratic House Leader, had co-sponsored a similar resolution. They have also been joined by several key lawmakers considered close to the so-called Israel Lobby, including the influential Democratic Caucus chairman Representative Rahm Emmanuel.

Israel has cultivated close ties with Turkey, particularly with its military, over the past two decades, and Turkish officials have reportedly requested its help in lobbying against the resolution.

Against this, Armenian Americans, of whom there are an estimated 1.5 million concentrated mostly in California, face an uphill battle.

"I truly hope that no member of Congress is persuaded to jump ship on such a critical vote as this simply because of some threats by a foreign government," said Armenian Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. "The government of Turkey and its million-dollar lobbyists are effectively blackmailing the Congress and the government of the United States. We should stand up to the threats and demand that Turkey immediately cease its campaign of misinformation and threats," he added.

(Inter Press Service)

Turkey fears Kurds, not Armenians (Oct 16, '07)

White House works to avert rift with Ankara (Oct 16, '07)

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(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Oct 18, 2007)


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