- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

ANKARA, Turkey Embattled Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit warned the United States yesterday that it risks becoming bogged down in a long war if it moves ahead with plans to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"Iraq is so developed technologically and economically despite the embargo, that it cannot be compared to Afghanistan or Vietnam," Mr. Ecevit said in an interview on state-run television.
"It will not be possible for the [United States] to get out of there easily," Mr. Ecevit said after a recent visit to the crucial NATO-member country on Iraq's northern border by Deputy Defense Minister Paul Wolfowitz. The Pentagon No. 2 was in Turkey to lobby for its assistance in any U.S. move against Saddam.
Mr. Ecevit said he did not know when the action might occur or what shape it might take. President Bush has said U.S. policy demands the Iraqi leader's ouster.
The Turkish prime minister said the United States should consider measures other than military action in Iraq, but did not elaborate.
"There are other measures to deter the Iraqi regime of being a threat to the region," he said.
Mr. Ecevit, who has been backing away from his promise to hold early elections on Nov. 3, also warned that the fall vote could bring a pro-Islamist party to power.
"The decision for early polls is wrong and against Turkey's interests," he said, noting that polls show the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party is positioned to win.
"If that comes true Turkey will be faced with questions over its regime," he said, referring to the powerful and staunchly pro-secular military who could well block a pro-Islamic government from wielding power.
Turkish leaders, grappling with the political uncertainty of early elections, are reluctant to back any U.S. military action they fear could hamper the country's economic development and lead to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.
Turkey has long complained that it has lost some $40 billion in trade with Iraq since the 1991 Gulf war and U.N. embargo.
Turkish officials have also repeatedly said they fear that a war would encourage Kurds in northern Iraq to create an independent state, which could in turn encourage Turkey's own Kurdish population to do the same. Kurdish rebels fought Turkish troops for autonomy for 15 years in a struggle that has cost an estimated 37,000 lives.
"There is a de facto Kurdish state in northern Iraq. We cannot allow this to go any further," Mr. Ecevit said.
"President Bush is a friend of Turkey. We do not want to hurt his feelings, but it is our duty to let them know our concerns," he said.
Turkish backing is seen as crucial to any action against Iraq. The country was a launchpad for U.S. strikes against Iraq during the Gulf war and is still host to some 50 U.S. warplanes enforcing a no-fly zone over northern Iraq.
Turkey is also in desperate need of foreign loans to recover from a deep financial crisis, and many believe the country has little choice but to agree to U.S. action.
After the Wolfowitz visit, Turkish officials suggested the country, NATO's only predominantly Muslim member, would go along provided the United States forgave outstanding military debts and guaranteed there would be no Kurdish state in what is now northern Iraq.


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