- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Speaking on Jan. 26th in Switzerland, Secretary of State Colin Powell summed up the selflessness with which the U.S. fights its wars: "We've put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives. We've asked for nothing but enough land to bury them in." Americans fight not for gain, but for principle, not out of hatred, but with a love of liberty, their own and that of others. Unfortunately, a very few U.S. officials are busy undermining Mr. Powell, seemingly determined to prepare the way for Turkey, an important U.S. ally, to invade and occupy northern Iraq. Any possibility that a U.S. ally will use the forthcoming war of liberation for a selfish land grab must be prevented.
At talks in Ankara last week, the United States asked Iraqi Kurdish leaders to allow thousands of Turkish troops into Iraqi Kurdistan, the safe haven in northern Iraq that has been free from Saddam Hussein's control since 1991. The United States says that the Turkish military presence will be temporary, limited and under U.S. command. There is no pretense that Turkish troops will enter Iraq to enforce U.N. resolutions. Rather, Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said on Feb. 8, 2003, that "any war in Iraq will not be Turkey's war."
Opinion polls show that up to 90 percent of Turks oppose a war against Saddam and American flags are burnt in the street. By contrast, in Iraqi Kurdistan, President Bush is wildly popular and more than 90 percent of the population cannot wait for the United States to attack.
Although U.S. officials tell the Kurds that they have nothing to fear, Washington's Turkish ally has provided ample cause for concern. Turkey has rejected placing its forces under U.S. command, despite having been a NATO member for 51 years. Equally worrying was Mr. Gul's comment that the Turkish army would enter Iraq to "prevent massacres, waves of refugees and the establishment of a [Kurdish] state."
The notion of Turkish forces as peacekeepers in Iraqi Kurdistan begs belief. As described by State Department Human Rights reports, the Turkish army's record towards civilians is atrocious.
To avoid the inter-ethnic tensions Turkey fears, Iraqi Kurdish forces have already agreed not to capture the ethnically mixed cities of Mosul or Kirkuk. Mosul has a large Kurdish population, but is not regarded as part of Kurdistan. Kirkuk, a historically Kurdish city, is more complex. Large numbers of Kurds and Turkomens (whose language is close to Turkish) have been ethnically cleansed from Kirkuk by the Iraqi regime and replaced with Arabs.
Turkish fears of an independent Kurdish state are exaggerated. What exists in northern Iraq today is an independent state in all but name, protected by American and British aircraft operating from Turkey. Turkish diplomats have helped to end internecine warfare between the Iraqi Kurds, to create the very Kurdish unity they now claim to fear.
With U.S. backing, Iraqi Kurdish leaders have repeatedly said that they want autonomy within a federal, democratic Iraq, not unrecognized and precarious independence. Not a month goes by without leading Iraqi Kurdish politicians visiting Ankara to reassure Turkey of their desire to be part of a democratic Iraq. Yet during the Ankara talks, Mr. Gul attempted to order the Iraqi Kurds to give up their aim of autonomy in a federal Iraq.
Whatever pretext is used to bring Turkish troops into northern Iraq, they clearly will not be there to help Iraqis nor will they leave in a hurry. Once there, they will be resented and even resisted. The Iraqi Kurds might find themselves fighting on two fronts, with the United States against Saddam and against unwelcome Turkish forces.
Turkey's own Kurds, around 20 percent of its population, will be inflamed by any Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq. Any conflict, whether in northern Iraq or southeast Turkey, would damage the already fragile Turkish economy and embolden those who want to keep Turkey out of the European Union.
The political damage to the United States would be immense. Washington would stand accused of allowing Turkey into northern Iraq to pursue its selfish ends. The legitimacy of both the war against terrorism and the war against Saddam, both noble and just causes, would be called into question. In the Middle East, Iran would not sit idly by, but would start exerting its influence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. For the United States to reward the Iraqi Kurds' moderation and pro-American sentiments with betrayal would send the message that moderation does not pay.

Dr. Najmaldin Karim is a Washington area neurosurgeon, president of the Washington Kurdish Institute and member of the Iraqi opposition steering committee.


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