Kurd-Turk rivalry threatens US plans for Iraq
Turkish parliament to meet this weekend to discuss allowing US troops on its bases.
If war begins in Iraq, it could look like this: Turkey's troops move into autonomous Kurdish areas in northern Iraq; Kurds view it as an act of war and open fire.Skip to next paragraph
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It could also look like this: Kurds move on the oil-rich Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Mosul; Turkey views the advance as a casus belli and launches an attack to prevent the cities from falling into Kurdish hands.
In either scenario, two of Washington's key allies could wind up fighting each other instead of the forces of Saddam Hussein - not exactly what the US had in mind when it drew up plans for regime change in Iraq.
But in the arithmetic of pre-war diplomacy, Turks and Kurds are stuck in a zero-sum game. So far, the US hasn't found a formula to convince the old adversaries that one side's gain doesn't have to be the other's loss.
"When the Americans tilt a little this way, toward the Kurds, Turkey is really bothered and gets nervous. When the US tilts toward Turkey and keeps the Kurds out, Kurds get irritated," says Dr. Dogu Ergil, a political sociologist at Ankara University. "Both sides are living in fear of each other."
Some Kurds are alarmed by the details of a tentative US-Turkish memorandum which provides for thousands more Turkish troops moving into northern Iraq to block Kurdish territorial grabs, and even calls for Turkey to help oversee the distribution of guns to Kurdish fighters.
Turks, in turn, have grown indignant at the burning of their national flag at Kurdish demonstrations in northern Iraq. Turkish officials are bitter, they say, because they were led to believe Washington had secured Kurdish backing for the agreement.
That agreement would have to be brought to the parliament once again by the new prime minister-designate, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey's ruling party yesterday announced a special weekend session to discuss war plans. If a second motion fails or is delayed long, the US says war could begin without Turkey's help.
Washington has long acknowledged that the lack of a northern front against Hussein is a recipe for longer and bloodier war. But an even worse scenario could be in store. Turkey has suggested its troops might march deeper into Iraq anyway, should Kurdish militias make any moves to control Kirkuk and Mosul - former Ottoman territories that Turkey's founding father wanted to be part of the young Turkish Republic. US Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman cautioned Turkey last week against unilaterally sending troops into northern Iraq.
"He said the Turkish military cannot enter Iraq, as if he can dictate to Turkey what Turkey can do," says Egemen Bagis, Mr. Erdogan's foreign policy adviser. "If the US feels they need to come 10,000 miles away to Iraq to protect their citizens from another Sept. 11," he asks, "isn't it right that Turkey, which is right on Iraq's border and a longstanding ally hosting US forces, should be concerned? If Saddam is armed [with] weapons of mass destruction, Turkey has a right to be in Iraq."
For Kurds, Turkey looks like the US's favored victor. But in Turkey's eyes, Kurds already have a major victory in their pockets: freedom from Hussein and the prosperity that has flourished since Turkey enabled the creation of no-fly zones after the 1991 Gulf War.
Turkey now sees the Iraqi Kurdish economy as a threat far more worrisome than the Kurdish military force. Kurds in northern Iraq have for the first time in their history been enjoying a portion of the oil wealth, under UN auspices. The potential increase of oil-generated prosperity after the war, in addition to income generated from other revamped natural resources, will be like a "utopia target" for the Kurds in Turkey's poor southeastern corner.