Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Iraq’s fledgling democracy edged forward with the successful vote on the draft constitution, completed on one of the least violent days since Saddam Hussein’s regime ended. Cheered by the outcome, President Bush reiterated that the United States would stay the course in Iraq. But it’s still unclear whether this constitution is the right roadmap to protect the country’s territorial integrity and national identity. It is a positive step, but it is just as important to stay focused on the challenges to building a stable, united Iraq and a stable Middle East that launches its own fight against radical Islamists.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met last weekend with three European leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss banding together to discourage Iran from building nuclear weapons. The EU-3 — France, Germany and Great Britain — backed down from reporting Iran’s nuclear violations to the United Nations Security Council last month when Russia threatened a veto.

Meanwhile, Syria is feeling heat from the United States. Newsweek reported that Miss Rice recently thwarted military action against Syria, and Mr. Bush said, “We expect Syria to do everything in her power to shut down the transshipment of suiciders and killers into Iraq.”

The question is how to get Iran and Syria on board in the war on terror. If these regimes crumble after outside military intervention, will it encourage a stable and united Iraq, or triple the chaos? When public opinion polls show a majority of American people disagree with the war in Iraq and want the troops home as soon as possible, is the United States likely to strike in these countries in the near future? As the threats continue, it is hard to rule out the possibility entirely. Therefore, it is important to recognize how much the United States asked of Turkey in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Since Mr. Bush declared Iraq and Iran as part of the “axis of evil,” Turks have feared their country could be dragged into other regional conflicts. Had Turkey allowed the United States to invade Iraq from its soil, it could hardly refuse a request to do the same in an invasion of Iran or Syria.

Turkey also remains concerned about Kurdish terrorism and separatism. It has always respected the legitimate rights and needs of Iraqi Kurds — after all, Turkey approved Operation Northern Watch, in which United States jets patrolled the northern no-fly zone. Yet Turkey’s concerns about separatist Kurdish terrorists, namely the PKK, continue to fall on deaf ears.

A Few days before the Turkish parliament considered whether to allow U.S. forces to enter Iraq through Turkey, Hoshyar Zebari of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Iraq foreign minister warned that “there would be clashes” if a Turkish agreement with the United States included sending troops to northern Iraq. Ultimately, Turkey did not allow the United States access, and the Turkish troops already in northern Iraq remained.

Although the majority of the Turkish people were against the war in Iraq, Iraqi Kurds did not want Turkey supporting the United States and Kurds in Turkey rallied against the war. It is worth looking into how Kurdish card continues to jeopardize the strategic relationship between Turkey and the United States.

Turkey fears an independent Kurdistan not because of an Iraqi Kurdistan — that has somehow existed since the first Gulf War. The problem is Kurds have allied with PKK terrorists — and thanks to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani turning a blind eye, they enter Turkey through northern Iraq and kill Turkish civilians.

Turkey has no desire to side with Iran and Syria against the United States. But if Iraq falls apart, Kurds will claim independence and the PKK will also cause problems for Iraqi Kurdish leaders if they refuse to accept autonomy. If Iraqi Kurds are true U.S. allies, they should act against the PKK soon and prove that they prefer Turkey as an ally. If the PKK causes mass casualties in Turkey, Turkish forces undoubtedly will retaliate.

Turkey has a direct interest in Iraq’s territorial integrity. While the United States presses Syria, senior Turkish officials tell me that they have not forgotten that Syria supported PKK terrorism for more than 15 years. However, it will not serve Turkish interests if Syria falls apart and can not control its borders. Turkey has a business relationship with Syria and Iran, but it faces the same political challenges as the United States.

If Turkey stops trade and communications with Iran and Syria, as the United States has asked, it would lose all its trade with eastern neighbors and be forced to spend more to transport its goods by air or sea — all while still recovering from its 2001 economic crisis. It would also be vulnerable to more terrorist attacks, even though both Iran and Syria extradite PKK terrorists. In a strange way, although it is not appreciated in Washington, Turkey’s good neighborly relations serve U.S. interests, too.

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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