- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari paid a one-day visit to Turkey, prompting an angry Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to call the trip “illegal.” The Iraqi President said he was troubled that the Prime Minister did not tell other officials who are still negotiating over the new government about it. Yet, when Jalal Talabani, “the” Kurd of Iraq, is disgusted with Mr. Jaafari’s visit to Ankara, one could not stop but thinking whether his reaction to the Iraqi prime minister were only a disguise to cover up his irritation of the Turks.

Clearly, some fear that Turkey is waiting for the right opportunity to cross the border into Northern Iraq. And the right time might be an Iraqi civil war. Did Turkey invite Mr. Jaafari, who enjoys the support of the most anti-American cleric, Muqtada Sadr, to enflame Iraq’s already troubling domestic affairs? Regardless of speculation, a civil war in Iraq would not mean that Turkey would definitively and unilaterally invade Iraq’s territory.

National Intelligence Director John Negroponte was open and blunt in warning that an Iraqi civil war could create broader conflict in the Middle East. “If chaos were to descend upon Iraq or the forces of democracy were to be defeated in that country… . This would have implications for the rest of the Middle East region and, indeed, the world,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. What’s more, there is no ocean between Iraq and Iran. And, if Iran’s influence is increasing in the region in large part because of its nuclear capabilities, and would only be enhanced by chaos in Iraq, the question becomes what to do about both Iraq and Iran. Therefore the Bush administration shows no sign of even considering a withdrawal. Yet, let’s assume the worst case scenario. In the event of an Iraqi civil war, will Turkey be a friend or a foe? Will it repeat its 2003 decision not to accommodate the U.S. request to open a front into Northern Iraq via Turkey?

A lot has changed since 2003. Although Turkey refused to be a throughway for the U.S. to invade Iraq, it later granted all of the U.S.’ requests, from opening its air space to providing humanitarian aid to the Iraqis. Last December, it was granted the right to start the accession talks with the European Union. It has also accomplished another “first” — for the first time, the Organization of the Islamic Conference elected a Turk, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, as its secretary general. In fact, the Arab League and the Iraqi Kurdish leadership opposed Turkey sending troops into Iraq, as it was formerly an imperial power.

But if civil war breaks out, it would be wrong to assume that Iraq’s borders could contain the trouble. The trouble in Iraq will threaten not only Turkey, but also Europe, the United States and even Arab states. Finally, think about the Kurds. If there is a civil war, will al Qaeda let the Kurds remain peaceful — the most loyal friends of America, who also happen to be the most secular? Or will the mahdi militia — militia members of Muqtada Sadr — allow Kurds a peaceful exit? After all, the Iraqi Kurdish leadership is determined to include “Kirkuk” to Kurdistan and mahdi militias are fighting against it in Kirkuk for some years now.

The Turks will not be the real danger to the Kurds’ existence if things go worse in Iraq. On the contrary; they face many serious threats to their existence. Therefore, it is time to stop pre-judging Turkey’s next moves before seeing what the other players in the region — the U.S., the Europeans and the Arabs — do next. The others need to assess the stakes and their courses of action. A civil war would be a dream come true for Osama bin Laden. Some may assume that it would also be a victory for Turkey, because it would have an excuse to cross the border into Northern Iraq and crush the Kurds. However, why would a country that insists on a modernization process and that is on the path to EU membership suddenly decide to give up everything and declare war? What is its strategy? It is one thing to speculate. It is another when speculation becomes reality. If that happens, Turkey should not face make-it-or-break-it kinds of deals.

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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