- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) — Iraqi opposition leaders will meet officials in Ankara on Monday to warn against the adverse effects a massive movement of Turkish troops into Iraq would have, their representatives in Washington said Saturday.

The dispute between the Iraqi Kurds and Ankara over its declared intention of deploying troops in the north of Iraq has had an adverse effect on U.S. plans to create a northern front in Iraq in the impending war there.

The Bush administration is caught between the Kurds, who are pro-American, and the Turks, old and close NATO allies.

The 3.5 million Iraqi Kurds could be of help to American forces but are adamantly opposed to what they see as a Turkish invasion of their homeland meant to check their recent advances in self-government and economic growth. Arab members of the Iraqi opposition support the Kurds. Both see a Turkish intervention as endangering the integrity of the Iraqi state.

On their side, the Turks fought a 15-year insurrection by Turkish Kurdish separatists that only died down in 1999 and took over 30,000 lives. They fear the Iraqi Kurds would attempt to set up an independent state that would have the effect of reviving separatist ambitions among their own 12 million Kurds.

Even an Iraqi Kurdistan enjoying home rule — as it has for the past 12 years under the protection of the northern no-fly zone — and prospering economically as it has in recent years, is seen by the Turks as offering an inflammatory comparison with adjacent impoverished and backward Turkish Kurdistan.

Another Turkish fear is that the Kurds will try to seize the northern oil centers of Kirkuk and Mosul, at present under Saddam's control. Possession of oil fields would be an economic elixir for Iraqi Kurdistan.

Ankara also wants the Turkomen minority to have a role in Iraqi affairs commensurate with that of the Arabs and Kurds. An Iraqi Turkomen Front is vociferous in asserting Turkomen claims and in rejecting the authority of the two parties in control of northern Iraq, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Supported by Turkey, the front is seen by analysts as a stalking horse for Ankara.

Turkey's new Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who took office this week, is moving at a slow pace to reintroduce a motion to the Turkish Grand National Assembly that would allow U.S. troops to use Turkish territory as a staging area.

The resolution would also authorize sending Turkish forces into Iraq. First presented to the assembly on March 1, it failed to be adopted by three votes.

What degree of freedom of action Turkish forces would enjoy in Iraq is unsettled between the Bush administration and Ankara. Erdogan's leisurely manner in dealing with the necessary parliamentary resolution reflects, at least in part, U.S. resistance to agreeing so far to Turkish demands.

While the Iraqi opposition meets with the new Turkish government early next week, the Bush administration's special envoy to the opposition, Zalmay Khalilzad, is in Iraqi Kurdistan this weekend for talks there.

The Iraqi opposition figures going to Ankara, according to Farhad Barzani, the Kurdistan Democratic Party representative in Washington, are members of a leadership committee set up last month. Opposition groups met then in the Kurdish area of Iraq outside the control of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Among committee members traveling to the Turkish capital is Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Conference, an umbrella organization including various opposition bodies. Chalabi is a Shia Arab. Others going to Ankara are Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister in the KDP-ruled area, and Jalal Talabani who heads the PUK that controls the eastern part of autonomous Kurdish area. Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, deputy leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the major Shia Arab opposition body, is also expected to attend.

The committee is making the point, Farhad Barzani said, that all of the opposition, Arabs as well as Kurds, are opposed to scores of thousands of troops entering as Turkish authorities wish.

Farhad Barzani, a nephew of KDP leader Masud Barzani, said that an acceptable number of Turkish forces going into Iraq to cope with refugees fleeing the looming war and for security purposes would be 5,000 or 6,000 but no more. According to one Turkish source, there are already 10,000 Turkish troops there.

The Kurds would like to see an agreement with the Turks that would limit the number of troops they send into Iraq, set a timetable for their arrival and departure and have them quartered in rural areas and not in towns.

There have been mass demonstrations in Iraqi Kurdistan against the Turks that have been ill received in Ankara. The Turks regard the Iraqi Kurds as ungrateful for assistance Ankara has given them. Well-informed Kurds acknowledge that the Turks have been helpful — for instance Barzani and Talabani are able to travel on Turkish passports and Barham Salih, prime minister in the PUK administration, regrets that Turkish flags were burned in recent demonstrations, something that the Turks' found particularly outrageous.

Salih was in Washington this week for talks with senior administration officials about Turkey's intentions. Speaking Friday at the Nixon Institute, a Washington think-tank, he said a Turkish move into Iraq would open Pandora's box and provoke other neighboring Iran and Syria also to intervene in Iraq.

Iran has already begun to do so. Eyewitness reports put some 5,000 Iraqi Arabs of the Badr Corps, the armed wing of the Shia Supreme Council based in Iran, having moved into Iraqi Kurdistan. They have done so under the aegis of Tehran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, a hardline Islamist force.

Thanks to the protection of U.S. and British air patrols, Iraqi Kurdistan, as the region is known in Iraq, has enjoyed de facto autonomy in the wake of the 1991 Gulf war.

Money to prime economic development has come from cross border trade and the allocation of 13 percent of funds produced under the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq. But according to Barham Salih, that funding is all but terminated as a result of the U.S. — Iraqi crisis. And the Turks closed down cross-border trade some weeks ago.

The Kurds agree that oil revenues, the source of Iraq's wealth, should be distributed on a proportional basis. But for this to happen and endure, they believe, Saddam must go and a democratic, pluralistic and federal republic rule in Baghdad.

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