- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

Winston Churchill once said, “The only statistics you can trust are those you falsified yourself.” As it made the case for the war in Iraq, the Bush administration learned not only that lesson, but also the heavy price of breaking its allies’ trust and compromising the United States’ moral authority.

Last week, before the Pentagon press conference in which the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, discussed the nature of the Iranian government’s involvement in Iraq, he met with his Turkish counterpart, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit.

Gen. Buyukanit talked about the meeting in a press briefing the next day. “We don’t even have a bit of a problem in our military relations. They are, however, equally troubled with other developments taking place,” he said. Earlier in his visit to Washington, Gen. Buyukanit said, “As a member of the Turkish Armed Forces who has worn this uniform for more than 50 years, I know my American colleagues don’t want to hurt us.” But below the surface, the U.S.-Turkey relationship has seriously eroded.

It was strained in 2003, when the Turkish Parliament refused to give U.S. troops a northern front into Iraq, and when American troops in Iraq arrested, handcuffed and put bags over the heads of a group of Turkish soldiers. For the last four years, the former chairman of the Turkish Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, did not visit Washington. Turkey was unwilling to be part of the war, but it got mixed signals about the U.S.?Kurdish alliance and the Iraqi Kurds’ insistence that Turkish troops be excluded from the coalition.

“Let me be clear,” said Gen. Buyukanit, “Today, Iraqi Kurdish leadership does not accept PKK as a terrorist organization, but a political movement.”

“The Iraqi side of the Turkish-Iraqi border has been surrendered to the PKK,” Gen. Buyukanit said at the news conference. “There is not one security officer to protect the border on the Iraqi side… This is unacceptable. Who surrenders the border to PKK terrorists — I leave it to your judgment.”

Many Turks believe the U.S. and the Iraqi Kurdish leadership surrendered the Turkish?Iraqi border to the PKK, a violent Turkish separatist group. While the U.S. claims to be fighting a global war on terror, Turks view it as protecting the PKK. Since the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. has warned Turkey that if it crosses into Iraq to fight PKK terrorists, its troops will first have to do battle against U.S. forces.

When American soldiers arrested the Turkish troops in 2003, senior U.S. officials said they had reliable evidence that the Turks planned to assassinate the governor of Kirkuk. The Turkish chief of staff denies the allegation, and the United States has provided no proof.

The United States ignored “the change of demography in Kirkuk,” Gen. Buyukanit said. “Sunni Arabs, Turcomans, Kurds, Christians now all feel threatened by each other. It is another potential Baghdad situation in which ethnic and sectarian violence may erupt. In such a scenario, Iraq’s territorial integrity will be threatened. A shattered Iraq will impose a significant security threat to Turkey.”

The United States sees Turkey as a violator of the Kurds’ human rights and minority rights. Over the many years that Turkey has fought PKK terrorism, it undeniably made grave mistakes. But it would be wrong to create policy based on those instances — just as it would be wrong to deal with the United States as though the crimes of Abu Ghraib were a matter of course. Yet U.S. policy ignores the fact that Kurds and Turks in general coexist peacefully, and has characterized Turkey as the villain and the Kurds as victims.

It may come down to marketing. “The Kurds are trying to figure out whether it is possible to create a new identity for the PKK,” Gen. Buyukanit said. “Some say it is possible to reframe their argument as one about human rights and minority issues. They are trying to make it into a political platform, which has nothing to do with domestic politics and everything to do with international politics.” Gen. Buyukanit believes that such efforts are a Kurdish attempt to create a federalist system of government or to seek independence for greater Kurdistan. In the meantime, the U.S. diplomatic approach to the PKK threat casts suspicion on its decision to turn PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan over to Turkey in 1999. Many Turks believe the Iraqi no-fly zones since the first Gulf War were part of a larger policy to ethnically divide Iraq.

In that context, Gen. Buyukanit’s visit should be seen as Turkey’s last attempt to urge the United States to act against the PKK. The next step will have grave consequences for all parties. If the United States continues to protect PKK terrorists and deal with the PKK issue diplomatically, Turkey will not shy away from dealing with the threat unilaterally. “If the unprotected border harms us, if the PKK gets the benefit of the environment, kills the people of my country, Turkey will not hesitate to take necessary steps to deal with the threat,” said Gen. Buyukanit.

Given the stakes for the region, it is time for the United States to decide what its future relationship with Turkey will be.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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