- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 18, 2003

Washington, still aching from Franco-German-Russian resistance to the war in Iraq, is going out of its way to entice Turkey to deploy its troops to Central Iraq. The $8.5 billion loan package to Ankara would pay $850,000 for each Turkish peacekeeper sent to the Sunni Arab areas of Iraq.

The Bush administration has approved the loan package in September, when analysts predicted the Turkish financial markets will collapse by early winter.

In addition to receiving an economic rescue check, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was anxious to defend his reputation. He wanted to deflect criticism, often heard among the Turkish elite and the military, and the Washington analysts, that he and his moderate Islamic AK Party acted incompetently when they failed to pass a bill in the Parliament in March 2003.

The bill would have authorized transit of the U.S. 4th Army Division to Iraq. On Oct. 6, the Turkish Parliament voted to allow deployment of an unspecified number of Turkish peacekeepers in Iraq for up to one year. The Turkish Army is considered by the Pentagon battle-worthy and experienced in peacekeeping missions. Turkey, which would be the first Muslim nation to deploy in Iraq in considerable force, would also set an example for others.

Such development would be opportune for the Bush administration, which is trying to expand the number of states in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. The conditions for deploying a multinational division in Iraq have improved, as the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution Thursday authorizing deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping contingent under the U.S. command.

State Department sources mentioned Korea as a possible contributor of international peacekeepers. A senior foreign policy adviser to Russia’s Putin administration also floated as the trial balloon of Russian participation in the Iraqi peacekeeping on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s summit with George W. Bush in Camp David in September.

Washington is keeping an eye on the “big picture” around Iraq — the neighboring states supporting or tolerating terrorism. If attacks against U.S.-led forces in Iraq continue unabated, or if bilateral relations with terrorist sponsors deteriorate further, U.S. may need Turkey — and the U.S. air base in Incirlik, for possible counterterrorism activities in the area.

Countries mentioned most often are Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. While Turkey has refused in the past to follow the U.S. drummer unquestioningly, it recognizes the danger the unstable Middle East may present to its security and territorial integrity, and to the whole neighborhood.

Ankara also realizes a nuclear-armed Iran will fundamentally change the balance of power in the region, triggering an even closer military relationship with the U.S. and Israel — the only country, which has developed and deployed, with U.S. funding, an operational missile defense system called Arrow.

Pentagon sources have complained, however, that the Turkish government is using the parliamentary decision to push for a U.S.-led crackdown against Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) armed groups hiding in Northern Iraq. Ankara wants stronger guarantees from Washington against a Kurdish declaration of independence.

Finally, Iraqi Kurds, the U.S. allies in the war against Saddam, and recently also the Governing Council in Iraq, strongly oppose Turkish deployment, even outside of Kurdistan.

Ankara’s sluggishness in committing troops may be self-defeating: The longer U.S. troops in Iraq are spread thin and take fire, the more likely events spin out of control. Any serious escalation of violence may splinter Iraq — and result in the Kurdish push for independence Ankara is trying to avoid.

Tensions between Sunni Arabs and the Shi’ites are rising. Shi’ites suspect Ba’athists and Islamist radicals of having part in the murder of the popular Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr El-Hakim. Sunnis are uncomfortable with rhetoric of a firebrand Shi’ite mullah Muq’tada Sadr, who has called for the creation of an Islamic republic in Iraq. Sunnis, formerly a dominant minority, consider themselves a defeated faction. Sh’ites may win by the weight of sheer numbers, as they comprise more than 60 percent of the population.

The Shi’ites, however, are also split between pro-Iranian radicals and a more moderate faction that recognizes the dangers of an Islamic state. Curiously, Najaf-based Mohammad Khomeini, the grandson of the infamous ayatollah, recently made the rounds in Washington. He is among vocal opponents of his grandfather’s model for Iraq — and for Iran.

To conclude, Turkey is a much-needed friend, which explains Washington’s commitment to accommodate the military and financial demands of Ankara, while keeping pressure for performance. So long as the War on Terror continues, Turkey’s geopolitical location, links to its neighbors, military capabilities, and long-term relationship with the U.S., will make it a valuable, if prickly, ally.

Ariel Cohen is a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

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