- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Turkey's political crisis complicates but would not undermine a U.S. military move against neighboring Iraq, regional security specialists say.
The minority government of ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit faces an all-but-certain Nov. 3 election, 18 months ahead of schedule. The leader of one of the three ruling coalition parties yesterday threatened to resign if Mr. Ecevit tried to delay the poll.
With Turkey in the midst of a deep economic crisis, the 77-year-old Mr. Ecevit tried to backtrack over the weekend on promises to hold early elections.
NATO-member Turkey provided critical support for the U.S.-led Persian Gulf war against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1991. The Bush administration has been seeking similar support, or at least acquiescence, from Ankara as it ponders a new strike to oust Saddam.
Mark R. Parris, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and now a senior policy adviser at the law firm Baker, Donaldson, Bear and Caldwell and a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the United States and Turkey have a long history of coordination on security issues even in uncertain political times.
"Obviously, this kind of turmoil causes you to look twice to see what's up," Mr. Parris said. "But the bottom line historically has been that we find ways to work profitably with Turkey no matter what the political conditions."
The conservative Muslim Justice and Development Party has the largest single base of support in the polls at 20 percent, but party leader Recep Erdogan has rejected the "Islamist" label Mr. Ecevit and other opponents have tried to pin on his party.
Mr. Parris said the Turkish political landscape is notoriously volatile and that even if Mr. Erdogan makes it into the government, he will be under strong pressure to prove to the United States and to Turkey's powerful military that he is a reliable ally of the West.
Anthony H. Cordesman, a security analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that Mr. Ecevit's political troubles are not centered on Iraq.
"You don't see a real violent clash of ideologies here. It's more like a power struggle between various Turkish politicians," he said.
Mr. Ecevit's only coalition is divided over proposed reforms, including abolition of the death penalty, as Turkey bids to join the European Union. Mr. Ecevit also has been harshly criticized for his handling of the economy.
All of Turkey's major parties share Mr. Ecevit's reluctance to support U.S. military action in Iraq, fearing further economic losses, regional turmoil and renewed efforts by ethnic Kurds in southern Turkey to link with Kurds across the border in Iraq in a renewed push for an independent state.
Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz, in a visit to Ankara last week, gave the most explicit assurances to date that the United States would protect Turkish interests in any post-Saddam Iraq.
"A separate Kurdish state in [northern Iraq] would be destabilizing to Turkey and would be unacceptable to the United States," Mr. Wolfowitz said in a speech Wednesday in Ankara.
Mr. Cordesman said political upheaval in Turkey ultimately could benefit U.S. military planning, if a stable government is elected and a newly formed pro-Western centrist party takes power in November.


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