- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

At their meeting today in Washington, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul will give Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a clearer picture of a country in total disarray, confusion and uncertain of its next steps. This is a decisive year for Turkey, one in which its citizens will determine whether it will remain aligned with the West or take another path.

Mr. Gul represents a country in a very difficult position. Although the recently publicized National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) predicts a possible Turkish military incursion into Iraq, Turkey is trying desperately not to be pulled into the war. While it maneuvers around the thorny issues, Turkey is trying to achieve good standing with as many countries as possible, even as Turks perceive that the Western bloc is pushing them away.

Under his “new way forward,” President Bush has given the Iraqi government responsibility for dealing with attacks in Turkey by the separatist Kurdish terrorists, or PKK. The NIE makes it clear that the Iraqi security forces are not capable of providing security. It also says that in the event of an American withdrawal, the “[I]raqi Security Force would be unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian national institution.” Therefore, transferring security responsibility to the Iraqis means more terrorist attacks for Turkey.

For over a decade now, U.S. policy on Kurds largely excludes their nationality as Iraqis or Turks and emphasizes only their ethnicity. Kurds seek a homeland, but one made up of land carved from Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. Although “the solution is not only military,” says Matt Bryza, assistant secretary of state, no one could argue that U.S. policy is a solution to this historical dilemma.

John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said recently that “there may well come a day when Iraq divides along sectarian lines and that may not necessarily be a disastrous outcome.” When I mentioned that possibility to Imad Moustapha, Syria’s ambassador to the United States, he said, “God forbid. As far as we are concerned, that will be catastrophic. It is [in] our national interest to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq and not to allow any group in Iraq to dominate it or defeat it, because the defeated group will not give up. It might be defeated in the battle, but it goes to other ways of fighting back. And this is a vicious cycle of vengeance and violence in Iraq that will never end.” Asked whether he agrees with the Turkish assessment that a Kirkuk referendum would increase the sectarian and ethnic violence and make it more difficult to protect Iraq’s territorial integrity, he said, “While we don’t approach the issue of Kirkuk the same way as Turks do, the results are almost the same… Wherever we look at Iraq, we are afraid that policies of dividing Iraq into autonomous regions and federal regions might end up leading to the disintegration of Iraq.”

Meanwhile, David Satterfield, the State Department’s senior coordinator on Iraq, told at a panel Friday at Woodrow Wilson Center, “We believe the issues as sensitive as Kirkuk must come in a way that contributes to national reconciliation and unity and in terms not be divisive.” This is a marked change from two weeks ago, when Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, warned neighboring countries that they should stay out of the Kirkuk referendum. Mr. Satterfield, however, said, “On the procedures to be followed, Iraqi sovereign national procedures are to be followed. This does not mean that friends of Iraq, including Turkey and the U.S., cannot express views. They can and we do.”

The complexity of taking responsibility in Iraq and the way it is being used in politics — for the approaching 2008 presidential election — will likely cause more bad decisions. Although it could be disturbing to admit, the fact is that the Iraqi government did not invite U.S. troops, nor the U.N., nor the Arab League, nor the regional countries like Turkey, into their country’s business. Yet they must bear the responsibility of cleaning up the battlefield. While finger-pointing is all too easy, the United States should accept full responsibility of the preventative war in Iraq.

Turkey, the only NATO ally that borders Iraq, Iran and Syria, is facing a historical challenge. “We understand… how the Kurds are feeling emboldened by the autonomous Kurdistan of Iraq and we see how Turkey is not very comfortable — although it is not opposing the emergence of an almost independent Kurdistan of Iraq,” Mr. Moustapha said. Asked if Turkey should cross the border, he said, “This is a bilateral issue between Iraq and Turkey.”

Such a perspective puts Turkey in an even more difficult position. Syria is enormously influential in Iraq; 17 out of 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council used to live in Syria, and Iraqi delegations are almost a daily phenomenon in Damascus. Syria clearly has much more power on Iraq than Turkey, simply because they have more intimate access to the people in charge.

Turkey has no alternative but to work on its relationship with Damascus. The United States, in the meantime, has to decide how it wants to solve the Kurdish issue with Turkey.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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