Parliament In Turkey Approves Iraq Incursion

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
October 18, 2007
Pg. 1
By Sebnem Arsu and Sabrina Tavernise
ISTANBUL, Oct. 17 — Turkey’s Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to authorize sending troops into northern Iraq to confront Kurdish rebels in hide-outs there, sending an angry message to the Baghdad government and its Washington sponsor. But Turkey, a member of NATO, made it clear that it would not immediately carry out the resolution.
The 507-to-19 vote was the culmination of months of frustration here with the United States, which has criticized Kurdish rebels who attack Turkey from Iraq but has failed to get its Kurdish allies in Iraq to act against them. President Bush on Wednesday reiterated American wishes for a diplomatic solution.
The vote to authorize sending troops, which Turkish officials say gives them up to a year to take action, was, in essence, a blunt request for the United States to acknowledge Turkey’s status as an important ally in a troubled and complex region.
“We’re at a point that our patience has run out,” said Cemil Cicek, a government spokesman and a member of Turkey’s Special Council Combating Terrorism. With Turkey central to oil transit in the region, United States crude oil futures soared to an all-time high of $89 a barrel on Wednesday, Reuters reported, though prices later dropped.
The vote came as relations between the countries were strained by a House committee’s passage last week of a bill calling the World War I-era mass killing of Armenians an act of genocide. In a nod to Turkey’s importance as an ally in Iraq, Congressional leaders began to back away on Wednesday from a commitment to hold a vote on that bill.
“We are at a defining moment in Turkish-American relations,” said Morton Abramowitz, the American ambassador to Turkey during the Persian Gulf war of 1991, commenting on the Turkish vote. “This is a very big warning sign to the Americans and to the Iraqi Kurds.”
Security experts here and in the United States agreed that Turkey was unlikely to cross the United States with a full-scale military operation. Still, the government is closer than it has been in years to military action of some sort, embarrassed into acting by a public angry over mounting deaths and what is seen as American inaction.
More than two dozen Turks, some of them civilians, have been killed in cross-border rebel attacks in the past several weeks, and the powerful Turkish military which, unlike the government, has long been pressing for action, is fanning public anger.
Along Turkey’s border with Iraq on Wednesday, Gen. Ilker Basbug, commander of the Turkish land forces, told villagers in Besagac that the killing of 12 Turks in late September by Kurdish rebels was “a crime against humanity,” according to Turkey’s official Anatolian News Agency.
“We share your grief,” he said.
The vote itself drew responses from the leaders of three countries — the United States, Syria and Iraq — and set off a flurry of diplomacy as officials in several countries worked strenuously to avert military action.
“We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don’t think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq,” Mr. Bush said. “There’s a better way to deal with the issue than having the Turks send massive troops into the country.”
He said Turkish troops were already in Iraq, a reference to the small number of soldiers based at observation posts near the border, which is loosely controlled by Iraqi Kurdish forces but is largely porous. The United States does not have troops stationed there but it controls the airspace.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq, in a 30-minute phone conversation on Wednesday with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said, “Let’s do whatever is necessary together,” the Anatolian News Agency said.
But Turkish officials say that recent diplomatic efforts have failed. Turkey signed a security agreement with Iraq in September, but since then, killings by Kurdish rebels, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the P.K.K., have only risen.
“The government has been bringing the P.K.K. issue in at every high-level meeting with the U.S., but we have achieved nothing in the last five years,” said Egeman Bagis, a lawmaker and Erdogan adviser. “The Armenian resolution has come as the last straw of the disappointment.”
He and others argue that Turkey supports the United States in fighting its war on militancy in Iraq — 70 percent of American air cargo for Iraq travels through Turkey — but that the Americans have not reciprocated, even though they formally occupy the area in question.
“The U.S. must realize the seriousness of this situation and Turkey’s determination to root out terrorism,” said a lawmaker, Nihat Ergun, during the debate. “Iraq has become a stomping ground for terrorists.”
Once considered a dutiful follower of United States policies, Turkey no longer shies away from talks with world leaders the United States opposes. Turkey signed a preliminary agreement on buying natural gas from Iran, a deal harshly criticized by the Bush administration last month.
The response to Wednesday’s vote underscored that new independence, with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, an antagonist of the United States with his own Kurdish minority, weighing in on the issue after official meetings in Ankara, the Turkish capital.
“We certainly support and back the decisions by the Turkish government in combat against terror and terror activities,” Mr. Assad said.
He also took a swipe at the Bush administration: “It is important to note that the powers that have invaded Iraq are those primarily responsible for the terror activities and attacks because they control the country.”
The vote places Mr. Erdogan in a delicate position. He was skeptical of the Turkish military’s desire for offensive action last spring, but he is now advocating it himself in what Turkish political analysts characterized as a last-ditch effort to press the United States and its closest allies in Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds, to act.
“Nobody wants to go there, there is no point to do so, but the parliament’s motion is a good diplomatic tool in relations with the U.S.,” said Mehmet Altan, a political analyst.
As the policy grinds forward, Mr. Erdogan may find himself making decisions that go against Turkey’s own interests in the region. Mr. Abramowitz cited Incirlik, the American air base in southern Turkey, as an example. Taking away American access to the base, one potential consequence of Turkish anger over American policy, would undermine Turkey’s interest in keeping Iraq intact, he said.
Mr. Erdogan, who played down plans for military action on Tuesday, gave few new clues on Wednesday, saying, “What matters is what Parliament has said,” Reuters reported.
Turkey has not carried out a raid into Iraq since the American invasion in 2003, and it is uncertain what type of operation Turkey would choose. It made several large-scale raids in the 1990s, under a deal with Saddam Hussein, most recently in 1997 with more than 40,000 troops, but security experts said a small commando strike was more likely.
But what happens next depends more on the United States and its Iraqi Kurdish allies, Mr. Abramowitz said. Mr. Erdogan will try to leverage the new permission to press them into action.
On Wednesday, the reactions seemed like more of the same.
“We hope the wisdom of our friend Prime Minister Erdogan will be so active that there will be no military intervention,” said President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, a Kurd, who was on a visit to Paris, Agence France-Presse said.
Barham Salih, the Kurdish deputy prime minister of Iraq, in London on an official visit, struck a tone similar to that of Mr. Bush.
“Threats are not useful,” he said, according to Bloomberg News. A Turkish raid “will have serious implications for Iraq, Turkey and for our bilateral relationships.”
“It will not be helpful to anybody,” he added.
The consequences of a large-scale raid would be severe. Turkey is seeking acceptance into the European Union, a bid that would probably be seriously harmed if it invaded. The northern Kurdish region in Iraq is a bright spot for the United States in its enterprise there, with a booming economy, bustling with Turkish companies, and a functioning political system.
Mr. Bagis said there would be no offensive if action was taken against Kurdish rebels in the northern region and if Congress dropped the Armenian genocide bill.
Sebnem Arsu reported from Istanbul, and Sabrina Tavernise from Amman, Jordan.