- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006

“We have a very strong and long-time strategic relationship with Turkey,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week in advance of her one-day visit to Ankara today. While the reassuring words are nice, the relationship doesn’t look or feel strong and strategic — particularly since the Turkish parliament denied the United States a northern front to invade Iraq more than three years ago.

In fact, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld clearly isn’t over Turkey’s decision. “We had the 4th Infantry Division that was due to come in from the North through Turkey, and the Turkish government at the last minute decided they didn’t want us to bring that division through,” he said last week on Rusty Humphries’ radio show. “Had that division — a very capable division — come in from the North it would have gone right into the Sunni Triangle, the area where Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist party was the strongest, and very likely would have captured or killed a good many of the people who are now conducting the insurgency.”

Turks do not second-guess the choice, and they point to U.S. planning for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq as the real reason for the insurgency. They accuse the United States of being insensitive to the region’s volatile ethnic and sectarian divide and history, and of trying to threaten Turkey’s territorial integrity. Turkey has fought Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism for more than a decade, losing more than 35,000 citizens to its attacks.

In November, Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, said other parts of Kurdistan should not be concerned about the demand for independence. He remained indifferent to the PKK terrorists who found safe heaven in Northern Iraq and crossed the border to Turkey to kill nearly 400 innocent Turks. Both Mr. Barzani and Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish Iraqi president, called for general amnesty and for Turkey to recognize the PKK.

Miss Rice announced before her visit that “[w]e share information and intelligence and try to help, to the degree we can, with the PKK.” It is a start, but it falls far short of addressing the tension between the United States and Turkey. Turks see this as a decision by the Bush administration to suspend the PKK problem until Iraq is stable.

“[I]t’s difficult to deal with all of the threats simultaneously,” Miss Rice said. “[W]e have a trilateral mechanism… between the United States, Turkey, and Iraq to try and deal with the terrorist threat there.” Turks do not see Kurds as reliable allies in the fight against separatist Kurdish terrorism. Even the co-chairman of the Democratic Society Party, Ahmet Turk, says the Kurds have the same base as the PKK.

Moderate Kurds never stood up to the PKK when the doctors and teachers that the government in Ankara sent to eastern Turkey to help their children became targets. The organization frightened businessmen by bombing their investments in that part of the country. Its leaders wanted to keep the region exclusively a Kurdish region so badly that the suffering of the Kurdish people didn’t matter.

Now, Iraqi Kurds are helping the terrorists’ agenda. Mr. Barzani proudly says that the time for Kurds to face off against their fellow Kurds is over. In the past, Kurds have fought alongside the Turkish military against the PKK; now they choose not to. No credible excuse exists for them not to act. Clearly, the Kurds oppose U.S. policy on fighting terrorism.

The Turkish military is building up troops on the Iraqi and Iranian borders to try to prevent PKK terrorists from getting in. But even though Turkey is fighting to secure its homeland, it provides 95 percent of Northern Iraq’s electricity, and does 80 percent of its trade with Northern Iraq. The recent PKK attacks in Istanbul and Izmir tried the patience of those who are fed up with policy-makers who keep them vulnerable because they are too consumed with Iraq.

Turkey has made a bargain: In exchange for keeping Iraq’s territorial integrity and not jeopardizing U.S. operations, it has accepted that PKK terrorists infiltrating the country through Iraq could kill its citizens. Iran, on the other hand, fired on PKK positions in Northern Iraq on Friday, but caused no casualties or damage.

Neither Turkey’s PKK problem nor the U.S. protests against Iran having nuclear weapons will be addressed differently even if the upcoming elections change things substantially. Turks believe that as the occupying force in Iraq, the United States should be willing to take military action to discourage PKK threats. They believe that though Kurds will never understand Turkey’s fight against Kurdish terrorism, Americans might be able to.

However, the United States has not proven itself a reliable ally. Miss Rice should tell Turkey why the United States has sidestepped the real issue. It must be a priority in order to get U.S.-Turkey relations back on track.

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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