- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

President Bush complains that media coverage of the war in Iraq is negatively biased. “If I’d have stood up here a year ago, in one of my many press conferences, and told you that in the — next year I make this prediction to you, that over 10 million Iraqis, including many Sunnis, will vote for a permanent government,” he said recently, “I think you probably would have said, there he goes again. But it happened.” Now it’s time to take a look at how biases can become obstacles — in this case, in U.S.-Turkey relations.

Turkey did refuse the U.S. request to open a northern front into Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime. And that action sealed the deal against Turkey within the Bush administration. As former U.S. ambassador to Ankara Mark Parris explained, the strategic U.S.-Turkish partnership has become more “allergic.” In this electrified atmosphere, what was forgotten was that Turkey never did and will never threaten American efforts to bring democracy to Iraq.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, traveled to Istanbul with the Iraqi Sunni leadership earlier this month to attend a meeting hosted by Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. By the end of that meeting, they announced that the Iraqi Sunnis agreed to participate in the election. It would be too arrogant to say that Turkey alone made Sunni participation possible, but if Mr. Khalilzad and the Iraqi Sunnis could have reached the deal in Baghdad, why would they have bothered to travel to Turkey? Undeniably, Turkey is a regional power that shares the same vision for Iraq’s future as President Bush. “Turkey is for a democratic Iraq that will preserve its political unity and territorial integrity,” said Mr. Gul. “We want an Iraq that lives in peace with its neighbors.”

Some claim that Turks want to preserve Iraq’s territorial integrity because they see Iraqi Kurds as a threat to their borders. Is this a racist, anti-Kurdish Turkey? No. But each time the Kurdish issue arises, some treat the Turkish state as criminal. Those on the other side say it is the Turkish government’s duty to win the hearts and minds of its Kurdish citizens. If not, there is no solution to the separatist Kurdish nationalist feelings that fuel PKK terrorism. When al Qaeda attacked on September 11, Osama bin Laden’s issues were with the U.S. government more than its citizens. The bottom line: A terrorist is a terrorist, and a state has the right to defend itself when attacked.

But some argue that the Kurdish question is different, and not limited to PKK terrorism. In fact, Robert Blackwill, who served as deputy national security adviser and presidential envoy to Iraq during first Bush administration, sounded surprised at a recent Council of Foreign Relations event when he acknowledged the fact that “[M]ost of the economic development that’s happening in Kurdish Iraq is coming across the Turkish border.” He may be surprised because the lobbying firm he heads, Barbour Griffith & Rogers, was retained by the Kurdistan Democratic Party in July 2004 “to ensure that Iraqi Kurdistan maintains its autonomy from Baghdad in the new Iraq Government, and for the return of oil-rich Kirkuk — which Saddam Hussein had ‘Arabized’ as the capital of the region — to Kurdistan.”

Yet, Turkey approved flights between Istanbul and Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and they’ve been in service since Dec. 6. Soon there will be flights between Istanbul and Sulaimania, another crucial city in Iraqi Kurdistan. Does Turkey’s behavior with the Kurds support the biases against it? It should not. But Turkey has a great challenge to make people trust that it opposes terrorism, not the Kurds.

Since the war in Iraq, the biases against Turkey on the Kurdish issue have resulted in Iraqi Kurds not taking action against the PKK. Moreover, they persuaded the United States that it is the right thing not to act against them. Those PKK terrorists have crossed the border from Northern Iraq into Turkey, and so far have killed more than 260 innocent Turkish citizens. If the PKK is a terrorist organization similar to al Qaeda — as stated by various senior U.S. officials — then ask yourself this question: What action would the U.S. government take if it knew al Qaeda terrorists could cross the border into the United States from Mexico?

Turkey has been asked not to cross the border into Northern Iraq because that would threaten American efforts in the country. Turkey abided by the request of its NATO ally not to compromise U.S. security in Iraq — and in doing so, accepted that its citizens would be attacked on their own soil. Now, to correct such mistakes, it’s necessary to drop the negative biases toward Turkey to see clearly what it is doing to help the United States claim victory in Iraq.

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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