The following essay was provided by Mustafa Kibaroglu. Dr. Kibaroglu is assistant professor in the Department of International Relations at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey.

President George Bush's plans to achieve regime change in Iraq were vastly complicated by Turkey's decision not to allow U.S. troops to stage operations in country. Although U.S. statesmen claim the decision is not important, Turkey's position has serious implications for the potential success of the war plans of the "coalition of the willing."

Needless to say, the military capabilities of the U.S. and its willing allies are far more powerful than may be even necessary for a decisive victory over Iraq. However, questions about what "victory" means in terms of casualties and material losses in the absence of Turkey's active support, and thus whether action against Iraq is worth such a high cost to the U.S. should now be on the minds of US decision-makers.

It was believed from the very outset that Turkey's active support in the US-led war against Saddam's regime would not only shorten the duration of the campaign and that stability would be brought to the region as quickly as possible, but also minimize the sufferings of all the parties concerned, including Turkey. Beyond straightforward economic repercussions, it was thought to be to Turkey's advantage to overthrow a rogue leader like Saddam who is thought to have chemical and biological weapons and their delivery vehicles, which may have survived the Gulf War and the intrusive inspections that had followed. It goes without saying that Turkey is vulnerable to the threats posed by the proliferation of mass destruction weapons of all sorts in its immediate neighborhood.

The very characteristic of the region which has in the past fed terrorist activities aimed at separating its mostly Kurdish inhabitated districts is a very serious cause for concern for Turkey. Active cooperation of Turkey with the US was expected to enable the former to have a say in the restructuring of the future political life in Iraq and thus to impede unwanted developments that would lead to the disintegration of political authority in the country out of which a Kurdish state could emerge sooner or later. Cooperation, it was believed, would also strengthen the position of the Turkomans in Iraq whom so far are not taken as seriously as they would expect from the Kurds in the north.

Against this background, one would conclude that the Turkish leadership would be highly enthusiastic about taking an active role in the war against Iraq, providing all the necessary support to the U.S. extending from opening its air space to basing tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Turkey. However, none of this has been the case so far. Although it is highly likely that the new ministerial cabinet formed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 14 will bring a new resolution to the Parliament paving the way to the deployment of U.S. troops, one would be better off if they behaved with utmost caution with respect to what really may happen in Turkey at this very sensitive and critical juncture.

Relying merely on Erdogan's taking the office, however, may be misleading for the decision-makers overseas. They have to carefully and seriously assess other factors that have had a far greater impact on the failure of the basing resolution. First and foremost, open questions on a viable deal between Turkey and the US with respect to the restructuring of politics in Iraq constitute the biggest factor behind Turkey's decision. Turkey wants most of all to prevent any development in Iraq that could elevate the tribal status of the Kurds in northern Iraq to one of autonomy, and may later pave the way to the creation of a Kurdistan that will surely have territorial claims from Turkey.

Statements made by the Turkish Chief of General Staff in the midst of these developments putting his weight in favor of the resolution seemed to have refueled the hopes of those who were anxious to see another vote in the Parliament. Until the statements made from the Azores by President Bush, followed by the withdrawal of a resolution that would authorize use of force against Iraq, it was unlikely that a new vote in the Turkish parliament would have taken place by the last week of March (i.e., after the cabinet). After the Azores summit, it seems that the Turkish government will be compelled to bring a new resolution as quickly as possible, even before the cabinet gets the vote of confidence.

The new resolution is likely to succeed this time. But, taking it for granted would still be a great mistake. Unfortunately, the US administration's handling of this delicate issue in Turkey has been rather poor. In addition to mishandling the economic issues, humiliating caricatures have been developed that have deeply wounded and damaged Turkish public honor: factors that influenced the defeat of the previous resolution.

Moreover, after the demonstrations by the Kurds in northern Iraq, during which Turkish flags were burned, threatening words by some US officials including Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman made matters worse. Grossman stated that unilateral action by Turkey in northern Iraq would not be tolerated, suggesting that Turkey might be punished. This exacerbated the tension in the public domain in Turkey. In addition, statements by Secretary of State Powell's and Vice President Cheney that openly pointed out the possibility of fighting between Turkish and American troops in northern Iraq in case the former did not pull back its limited military presence in the region raised many questions in the Turkish public domain as well as among the politicians as to whether Turkey was really seen as a "staunch" ally of the US as was espoused many times until recently or as an enemy.

Now, the genie is out of the bottle and conspiracy theories abound that the US has indeed other scenarios than the ones put before the world community. The lack of a clarification about the excessive number of US soldiers positioning all over Turkey's southeastern districts, and only a small proportion of them marching toward Baghdad, nourish such theories even more. Hence, Turks, ask quite honestly the following: Is Iraq which is rich in oil, or the southeastern Turkey, which rich in water, the long term target of US invasion plans?

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