by Hilmi Toros
(IPS) ISTANBUL --
U.S. opposition, Turkish troops are entering northern Iraq, turning the unsettled area into a potential powder keg.
The Turkish incursion also displays that NATO-member Turkey, the very country that the United Stated counted most in its military strike on Iraq, is turning out to be a most difficult ally.
As a result, the timer-honored and highly-touted "strategic partnership" between the two countries is now being questioned.
Turkish and U.S. military sources confirm that more than 1,000 Turkish troops slipped into northern Iraq, joining some 7,000 others that had already been there long before the Iraqi flare-up and purportedly to confront Turkey's Kurdish guerrillas in their sanctuaries across the border in northern Iraq.
The Turkish incursion, also opposed by the area's Kurdish population, came after Parliament voted to authorize Turkish troops to cross borders, along with the approval of another motion to open the country's airspace to alliance planes.
An earlier motion to allow some 60,000 U.S. troops to open a "northern front" against Iraq and hasten the end of the war failed to clear Turkey's Parliament, disappointing Washington and forcing a change in war plans.
The normally cordial U.S.-Turkish rapport, even closer after repeated EU rebuffs to a speedy membership of the European Union, faced crisis even after Parliamentary approval opening airspace.
For a full day after approval, the Government denied its use, as well halting activity by U.S. and British planes already at a base in Turkey.
Turkey insisted on U.S. acceptance of its demand that, as airspace opens, U.S. also accept Turkey's condition to send its troops to northern Iraq.
Turkey opened its airspace only in the final minutes before air strikes and moved its troops to northern Iraq on its own.
The U.S. insists that the two are separate issues, as announced by Secretary of State Colin Powell, and there is no need for additional Turkish troops in northern Iraq at this time.
The Kurds in northern Iraq, cooperating with U.S. planners, also claim that any large scale refugee movements toward Turkey could be handled without the presence of Turkish troops. The Iraqi Kurds have warned that extensive Turkish military presence in northern Iraq could lead to armed clashes between Turkish military and Kurdish fighters.
In the end, as Turkey dispatched its troops without U.S. blessing to create a buffer zone, it also got its message across that it wants a strong voice in a post-Saddam settlement. Turkey says its aim is to manage the flow of refugees, keep anti-Turkish guerrillas at bay and protect the Turkish minority in the area.
Also figuring in the equation is Turkey's openly stated policy to ensure that Iraqi Kurds will not go for independence and make a grab for rich oilfields in Kirkuk and Mosul.
Turkey fears that a strong Kurdish entity after the war may embolden its own Kurdish minority to demand similar concessions.
But a new and overwhelming concern in Turkey at this moment is the future of its ties with the United States, as Turkish troops took up position in a unilateral move not coordinated with coalition plans.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin, attempting to downplay the split, acknowledged over the weekend that it was natural for two close allies "not to see eye-to-eye" all the time and differences could be ironed out in due time.
"Turkey has shot itself in the foot," says commentator Mehmet Ali Birant. "We have become the bad guy" in U.S. eyes. He estimates that Turkish troops in northern Iraq "will have their hands tied up so firmly that they will find it hard even to breathe."
However, he also hastens to add that "USA would not write off Turkey but... America believes that it has been deceived by the Turks." All those years the "strategic partnership" lie had been maintained. "In the end, the fact that this is not true, has become obvious."
As for the future, Birant expects that even if the United States "would not write off Turkey because of a single incident, Turkey will gradually be taken off the 'countries to whom support must be given with priority'" category. It will be given no more support than what is needed to keep it from being plunged into instability.
"Quite probably a great part of the bases in Turkey will be moved into Iraq in the near future and the strategic importance will shift."
Through its sudden and surprising go-alone policy, Turkey also lost a laboriously crafted economic package of $6 billion in grants and up to $20 billion in loans for its struggling economy.
The sudden tension in the U.S.-Turkish relations also comes in the wake of a reported accord for a coordinated action between Turkey, the United States, Iraqi Kurds and Turkish minority in northern Iraq. The agreement may now be in jeopardy.
March 23, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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