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Turkish ire may affect Iraq war

Congressional committee this week said Turkey was guilty of 'genocide' against Armenians.

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A mechanism created in August 2006 to defuse a crisis and prevent a Turkish incursion has brought few results.

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President Bush appointed retired Gen. Joseph Ralston, a former NATO supreme allied commander, to be his envoy to counter the PKK. But his mission has been fraught with frustration and his resignation was confirmed this week.

General Ralston's Turkish counterpart was fired several months ago after making comments critical of the US, and in tough words published this week, he said anyone who did not help Turkey fight terror was also guilty.

Effects of US 'genocide' bill

"Some people claim the PKK is doing these attacks to pull Turkey into the northern Iraq swamp, in order to harm Turkey's relationship with the US and to isolate Turkey," adds Demir. "If you add an Armenian genocide bill onto this ongoing turmoil over the PKK attacks, it will be terrible for Turkish-American relations."

Already much of that damage is being done, though the vote by the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday – taken in the presence of four Armenian survivors of the World War I-era events – mirrors one passed by a wider margin in 2005 and another in 2000 that were withdrawn. This time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will bring the nonbinding resolution to a vote of the full House, perhaps in mid-November.

Turkish newspapers on Thursday were scathing. The mass-circulation Hurriyet called it "bill of hatred." The daily Vatan gave this front-page headline, about those who voted for it: "27 foolish Americans."

American businessmen in Turkey have also lobbied against the measure, noting how French market share has tumbled by double digits as high as 70 percent in the year since France passed a bill criminalizing Armenian genocide denial.

French exports to Turkey have also fallen by $1 to $2 billion in the past 12 months, by one count, while the value of most other trading partners expanded. Turkey denies that a systematic genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians ever took place – a description and figure accepted by many historians – saying that mass killing was carried out by both sides.

Weighing the pros and cons

Speaking about "this enormous blot on human history," congressional committee chairman Tom Lantos (D) of California opened the session this way: "We have to weigh the desire to express our solidarity with the Armenian people and to condemn the historic nightmare through the use of the word 'genocide,' against the risk that it could cause young men and women in the uniform of the United States armed services to pay an even heavier price [in Iraq and Afghanistan] than they are currently paying."

Some congressmen said the Turkish warnings of retaliation were a bluff, with one saying he felt as through a "Turkish sword" was over his head. "We can't provide genocide denial as one of the perks of friendship with the United States," added Rep. Brad Sherman (D) of California.

But others expressed shock. "This is crazy," said Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana. "We're in the middle of two wars and we've got troops over there that are at risk, and we're talking about kicking the one ally that's helping us over there in the face."

Administration officials – and Turkish politicians – pointed out that 70 percent of the US military's air cargo destined for Iraq transits through the US air base at Incirlik in eastern Turkey, and 30 percent of the fuel used by US forces.

"Our most reliable resource of unfettered intelligence that is helping us in the Middle East comes through Turkey," Rep. David Scott (D) of Georgia told the committee.

"The Armenian question is plain as day: What was done to them is wrong. The issue is: What is in the best interest of the national security of the United States?"