- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

ISTANBUL In dire need of Western assistance to stave off an economic crisis, Turkey is playing a crucial, if somewhat contradictory, role in the U.S.-led campaign against terror offering wide-ranging assistance in Afghanistan while cautioning against extending the effort to Iraq.

Turkey says its special forces, who have fought Kurdish rebels for 15 years in the southeast, could train fighters with the Northern Alliance.

In an address before Parliament last week, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said Turkey has long had contacts with Afghan opposition groups, especially the forces of Gen. Rashid Dostum, and it could help build them into an effective fighting force.

Gen. Dostum's fighters are largely Uzbeks, a group that has close ethnic links with Turks. The Taliban are mostly ethnic Pashtun.

"The struggle in Afghanistan against the archaic regime which hosts terrorism must be carried out until the end," Mr. Ecevit told Parliament.

NATO's only majority Muslim member is also assured of a "very strong role" in postwar Afghanistan, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said yesterday.

He was in Ankara for a meeting with Mr. Ecevit and Foreign Minister Ismail Cem.

Turkey has also offered to assemble a peacekeeping mission from Muslim countries.

A strong Turkish role in such a mission could ease the potential antagonism of Afghans. For Turkey, it could alleviate tension at home, where many oppose U.S. strikes against a Muslim country and most are against sending Turkish troops.

Above all, Turkey is hopeful that its cooperation in the military and political effort will buy it international goodwill in its effort to stabilize an acute economic crisis.

The Turkish lira has dropped 60 percent against the dollar since February, inflation is expected to top 70 percent this year and up to 1 million Turks have lost their jobs.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have offered loans of $15.7 billion. But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism have doomed Turkey's prospects of recovering with exports and tourism.

During the 1991 Operation Desert Storm and the subsequent sanctions against Baghdad, Turkey estimates it lost tens of billions of dollars in trade and revenue.

Turkey had been Iraq's largest trading partner in the 1980s and gained millions of dollars in oil revenue from Iraqi oil that was pumped to Ceyhan, a Turkish terminal on the Mediterranean.

"Iraq is very much on their minds," said a Western diplomat. "Turkey has been very supportive [of the anti-terrorism campaign]. But they worry they are going to lose again if the conflict turns to Iraq."

Turkish officials have express concern that unrest in the Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq would impact the population of restless Kurds in its own country.

Millions of Kurds fled to the Turkish border following a failed uprising against Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the Gulf war and Turkey received harsh criticism in the West for barring the refugees from entering its territory, although humanitarian assistance was provided.

The Turkish media have produced alarming front-page reports of Pentagon plans to move against Iraq after the Afghanistan campaign is finished or even sooner.

If an Iraqi link to the terror attacks of Sept. 11 is found, sprawling Incirlik air base in southeastern Turkey already a staging post for U.S.-led action in Afghanistan would likely figure prominently in any Pentagon plans to extend the campaign into Iraq.

Dozens of American warplanes already patrol the no-fly zone over northern Iraq from Incirlik as they did during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Mr. Ecevit and his coalition partner, Mesut Yilmaz, each expressed concern this week over such a move. "We never wish it to spill into Iraq," Mr. Ecevit said of the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign during a broadcast interview. "That could harm Turkey more than any other country."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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