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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


turkey turning against the united states

the economist this week noted the reversal of turkish public opinion from that of a longtime cold-war ally to dread and antagonism.

For, even as Congress has been considering a war that is almost a century old, America's present war in Iraq has made Turkey newly vulnerable to Kurdish attacks. The de facto autonomy enjoyed by Iraqi Kurds has encouraged the PKK. Many PKK guerrillas are now attacking the Turks from bases in Iraq. As many as 20 Turkish soldiers have died in clashes with the PKK in the past two weeks alone. The Turks have held back from retaliation, largely because they hoped that America would deal with the PKK itself. Its failure to do so, mainly because it fears upsetting its Iraqi Kurdish allies, is the biggest cause of rampant anti-American feeling in Turkey, which has been strengthening for some time (see chart). So although President George Bush warned Turkey, just before its parliamentary vote, that it was not in its interests to send troops into Iraq, the Turks ignored him. “The genocide resolution poured more oil on to the flames at the worst possible time,” observes Taha Ozhan of the SETA think-tank in Ankara.

Turkey is a key ally in a region where America has too few. Three-quarters of the air cargo heading into Iraq passes through Incirlik air base there. American planes fly freely through Turkish air space en route to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the American navy uses Turkish ports. Turkey provides Iraq with electricity and allows trucks laden with fuel to cross its border into Iraq. But if American politicians persist in dishing out what Turks perceive as a grave insult, it will make it harder for the Turkish government to continue co-operating so closely with America.

the issue of armenian genocide is an important one in turkish opinion, and that a democratic congress is treating it at all is just another manifestation of the thoroughly imperial problem of having confused foreign policy directives driven almost exclusively by domestic politics.

but it is completely secondary to the core issue -- turkey and turks are enraged at what the americans are facilitating in the kurdish insurgency, centered on the pkk. almost every american would be shocked to learn that the united states is arming a terrorist group that aims for breaking turkey, iraq and iran apart in favor of an independent kurdistan. and yet.

part of the flow of american arms and money has apparently been sidetracked to the pkk, which washington sees (perhaps naively) as an ally in both iraq and against iran. but those same resources are being deployed against its much more important regional ally, turkey, with new american weapons turning up in turkish raids against an increasingly active and sophisticated pkk -- to the point where turkey's government has voted under populist pressure to invade northern iraq to suppress the pkk. bombardment has begun, and talks with the american-puppet iraqi government have gone nowhere.

Apparently, the Iraqi government refused to arrest and extradite members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) stationed in northern Iraq. The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, already facing a difficult domestic situation in which security is completely lacking, simply cannot come to blows with Iraqi Kurds. It is the Kurdish bloc that has kept Maliki in place after most of his allies abandoned him early this summer. If he had alternatives to bolster him domestically within Parliament, like Sunnis or fellow Shi'ites, perhaps Maliki could have taken a different position to avert a military showdown.

Meanwhile, 100,000 Turkish troops remain stationed on the Iraqi border, awaiting orders from Erdogan. Already, Turkish warplanes have attacked PKK positions in the mountainous districts of Siirt, Hakkari and Sirnak near the border with Iraq. And crude oil prices rose on Friday to US$92 a barrel.

Many consider Turkey's display of displeasure as an ultimatum to Maliki; a final warning before Turkish tanks roll into Iraqi territory. That, however, is unlikely to happen before Erdogan meets US President George W Bush in Washington on November 5. General Yasar Buykanit, the Turkish chief-of-staff, commented, "We will wait for his [Erdogan's] return."

the united states is claiming -- with the fbi involved -- that corrupt american officers are selling and redirecting arms shipments intended for iraqi state forces and police to the kurds.

Regarding the PKK's use of American weapons, Gül told NTV: “After some terrorists were arrested, security forces seized their weapons. When we investigated the place of origin of those weapons, we saw that some of them were manufactured by the United States. US officials told us that those were the weapons they handed over to the Iraqi army."

Today's Zaman quoted more details from Gül's live interview, where he specified: “1,260 weapons captured from the PKK are American made. We documented it to the U.S. These are of course not given directly to the PKK by the U.S. These are the ones that were given to the Iraqi army. Unfortunately some U.S. officers were corrupt. The Department of Defense informed us that a serious investigation is underway.”

raimondo is skeptical that such a thing occured without the blessing of the vice president, but that may be a difficult accusation to sustain. and it may also be possible that these are comments fabricated by the turkish government to defuse antiamerican populist sentiment. but fbi director robert muller has been in turkey conferencing with the turkish government, and that (as raimondo notes) is unusual.

in any case, the united states is playing a dangerous game. the turkish government cannot want to invade iraq, as the economist notes -- it's likely as much a quagmire for them as it has been for us. but regardless of whether it does or not, the damage done to turkish political opinion of the united states is immense and will likely carry long term consequences.

UPDATE: more, crossreferenced with the political military.

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