Why is Turkish support crucial for a US attack on Iraq?

Today's News Question

At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Turkey has long played a role bridging East and West. In the current ramp up to a military confrontation in Iraq, Turkey is a bridge between Washington and Baghdad. By announcing today that the US would have access to Turkish air bases and military facilities, the Turkish foreign minister gave the Bush administration a much firmer footing on its march to war.

Militarily, Turkey provides a convenient staging ground for any attacks into northern Iraq. According to military plans leaked to the press last month, the US will likely launch a three-pronged attack from the north, south, and west. Without Turkish cooperation, the US could not put as tight a squeeze on Baghdad from the north.

"It's important for Saddam Hussein to understand that he's surrounded by an international coalition," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the press in Ankara, where he is negotiating the military cooperation deal that has yet to be finalized.

The US already uses Turkey to patrol the northern no-fly zone. For obvious geographic reasons, bombing missions north of Baghdad would require more cumbersome refueling logistics. But more importantly, without Turkey, a northern ground invasion would be out of the question, according to William Nash, a retired US major general and Gulf War veteran. "The ability to use Turkey's facilities as staging bases for ground operations, or helicopter or short-range missions would be its most valuable contribution," says Nash.

Cooperation from Turkey also boosts the legitimacy of a possible invasion by adding a majority-Muslim state to Bush's "coalition of the willing." While Turkey has strong secularist roots, the newly-elected ruling party has its origins in Islamic politics. The new government's willingness to participate in a military action against a Muslim neighbor bodes well for future US-Turkey relations and puts the pressure on other US allies in the region to follow suit. And as a member of the NATO alliance, Turkey's support could help sway wavering European allies.

For further information:

Turkey has conditions for support of war , Washington Post

Turkey saying no to accepting G.I.'s in large numbers, The New York Times

Turkey, too, sees gains by Islamists, The Christian Science Monitor

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