- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey, March 25 (UPI) — The split between the United States and Turkey, for decades a steadfast allies, continues to reverberate in Ankara and Washington.

While President George W. Bush was standing Sunday on the White House lawn saying he would not countenance Turkish troops moving into northern Iraq, Turkish television was showing Turkish troops moving toward the border. Many in Turkey think they are already there.

One prominent Turkish editor claims there are 17,000 Turks in northern Iraq, a senior member of the main Kurdish political party cautiously denies that. "There are exactly 1,270," he claims, certainly a number his party could live with, any more would cause them to react. The leadership of the Kurds in northern Iraq oppose any large scale infusion of Turkish troops, but also want to avoid confrontation with Turkey.

On Monday, Bush's personal ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, redelivered the president's message and was rebuffed.

"Turkey's current and future presence in northern Iraq is based on humanitarian and terror considerations, as shown during the Gulf War," said government spokesman Cemil Cicek. "We are making decisions to deploy forces in Iraq for those purposes on our own."

What is emerging here is not only a major breach between two nations allied at war since Turkey sent its tough infantrymen to Korea 51 years ago to join another coalition, that one blessed by the United Nations to help save South Korea from invasion from the north. What is emerging here may be one of the major miscalculations of the Iraq war.

For Ilnur Cevik, the editor and publisher of the Turkish Daily News, one of most prominent English language daily newspapers in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish Parliament "committed suicide" when it voted March 1 to bar 62,000 U.S. troops from passing through Turkey to enter Iraq.

In a column published Tuesday, Cevik said that "many deputies were misled by a handful of intellectuals who said the U.S. not be able to attack Iraq if Turkey did not allow the opening of a northern front."

He agreed in an interview with United Press International that many of his countrymen misread Bush's resolve to settle the Iraq crisis through war and the U.S. willingness and capability to conduct the war without the tanks and soldiers it would bring through Turkey. In fact, as Cevik was speaking, an American engineering team that had built temporary bases for those troops was rolling to waiting ships amid the jeers and catcalls of Turkish crowds.

But for Americans, there were miscalculations as well. Cevik points out that in the other wars of the last 50 years, the United States has found Turkey by its side in Somalia, Afghanistan, South Korea and other battlefields remote to the Turks. "Iraq is like Mexico. The people of Southern California would have different calculations if a foreign invader landed in Mexico and tried to level Mexico City with a bombing campaign."

For Turkey, war with Iraq, particularly a war not sanctioned by the United Nations, was delicate in every way. Some 94 percent of the Turks oppose the war and that number has been consistent. For a deputy in Parliament to back taking part in such a fight, would face the deputy with going against a majority of his constituency.

Though Iraq is primarily an Arab nation, these peoples have lived in this ancient crucible since man first came on earth and bonds as well as the rivalries are complex and real.

The aftermath of this war is as anxiety building for Turkey as the combat. If Iraq, a wealthy oil nation of 24 million, breaks up as a result of the fighting, it could destabilize the region for decades finding all sort of nations and ethnic groups vying for position.

Not alone among these concerns for the Turks is the future of the Kurd-controlled areas, which if they formed into an independent state could re-ignite revolution by Turkey's Kurdish minority, which presented Turkey with a smoldering rebellion that cost 30,000 lives and was only recently put down.

But now six days into the war, the Turkish crisis may underscore miscalculations in Washington as well. Only last December, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz left Ankara saying "we have an agreement to move forward with concrete measures of military planning and preparations" with Turkish officials.

Those early weeks of December were a dicey time for the Wolfowitz pro-war contingent in the Bush administration as a debate raged as whether war should be used to unseat Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. That Turkey, one of the largest and most prominent Muslim nations in the world would join a "coalition of the willing," was a prime card indeed.

But U.S. reliance on those December meetings missed the small print. By March, elections had changed the administration in Ankara and even the men that Wolfowitz had commitments from had said they were contingent on the United Nations backing the war.

Despite what the U.S. military said, it is not as easy to carry out the war without a strong northern front, and the United States left its ships off Turkey to the last moment in hopes it wouldn't have to. Six days into the war, these miscalculations have not clearly resulted in loss of life for coalition forces or extension of the war. They may be later on.

But for Turkey, Cevik's column points out, the country has lost the much-needed benefit of an American aid package of loans and payments, this action against an unpopular war has not helped Turkey gain admission to the European Union and already the dollar is climbing against the Turkish lira.

"The government has announced new belt tightening measures and has asked for understanding from the masses," Cevik writes. " … Prime Minister (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan will see that things get tougher in the days to come and once again he will be forced to make Citizen Osman pay the bill for those who said 'no war.'"

In the days to come, the United States can see whether "G.I. Joe" was charged the bill for U.S. miscalculations.

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