TURKEY has assured the United States of its continued support for Washington's Gulf policy, including the possible resort to force by the Bush administration. Turkish leaders, however, reportedly promised the US only a ``limited active support'' in the event of war. Under pressure from public opinion and opposition parties not to get involved in an armed conflict with Iraq, Ankara would not go beyond granting the US ``logistic facilities'' in the joint military bases on Turkish soil, at least in the first stages of a war, high-level government sources say.
The US would like to use the bases, particularly the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, for strikes against Iraq. Many are concerned that this might bring Iraqi retaliation and drag Turkey into war.
Instead, President Turgut "Ozal is understood to have offered logistical support to US fighters and bombers when US Secretary of State James Baker III briefly visited Ankara last weekend. He also hinted that the government would study any further US request for the full use of the facilities. Mr. "Ozal and some of his aides have recently expressed the view that the US would be able to strike and disable Iraqi targets rapidly, making the immediate use of the Turkish bases unnecessary.
Turkey has sided with the US from the beginning of the Gulf crisis and participated actively in sanctions against Iraq. It has discreetly allowed the US to base several squadrons of F-111 and F-16 fighters on its soil, as well as use monitoring facilities near the Iraqi border. The Turks have also deployed an estimated 100,000 men, and weapons recently acquired from the US and other NATO countries along its border with Iraq, thus forcing Iraq to keep a force estimated at 60-70,000 men in the northern part of the country.
The massive concentration of Turkish forces in the area has stepped up rumors (attributed by Turkish analysts to the US) about Turkey opening a second front against Iraq. Many Turks, including opposition leaders, have warned the government against such a move. Just before Mr. Baker's visit, "Ozal said there was no question of opening a second front and that military preparedness along the border was a precaution against Iraqi attack.
``No one can guarantee that Saddam Hussein would not attack Turkey,'' he said. ``He can make such a foolish act anytime.''
Turkish officials do not expect Iraq to attack without a good reason. The National Security Council recently debated whether Saddam would react even to the ``limited '' support which Turkey is prepared to give to US aircraft at Incirlik and other facilities. If Iraq retaliated by stiking those bases, Turkey would find itself in the middle of a war.
The position of officials in Ankara is still that Saddam would be unlikely to take such action because an attack on Turkey would be considered by NATO allies as an attack on all. Earlier this month, NATO sent three squadrons from the German, Italian, and Belgian air forces to Turkey as a token allied presence along the border.
With the massive buildup, southeastern Turkey has been put on a war footing. Villages along the border have been evacuated and thousands of people have been moving to safer places. Several provinces in the region are under full military control.
The fear of war has been spreading throughout the country in the last few days. In major cities such as Istanbul and Ankara, people have been rushing to banks to withdraw money, and to supermarkets and shops to stock up. The government has appealed for calm and said that there was no need for panic buying since goods were in plentiful supply.
The authorities have started to take some defense and security measures, including civil defense drills, hospital alerts, and restoration of shelters.
The concern about war and possible participation of Turkey has been increased by "Ozal's recent statements that refer to war as imminent. He said over the weekend that chances are 80 percent.
"Ozal's stand is seen by some Turks who oppose any role by Turkey in the current crisis as ``hawkish.'' He has taken a firm, even harsh stand against Iraq in what his critics describe as a ``policy of great risks.'' Erdal In"on"u, leader of the main opposition Social Democratic Populist Party, told a rally here on Sunday that "Ozal had no right to gamble over the lives of Turks. ``We have no place in such a war,'' he said.
The general feeling here is that Turkey should stay out of an armed conflict. ``The vast majority of the people oppose being involved in a war,'' said "Onder Sav, president of the Bar of Lawyers. ``If "Ozal drags us into it, he will bear the constitutional and moral responsibility for it.''