Nobody's Business But the Turks


A U.S. special envoy rushed back to Turkey on Monday but failed to reach agreement on Turkey's plans to send troops into northern Iraq—plans that Washington says could lead to friendly fire incidents with U.S. forces and clashes with Iraqi Kurds.

Wouldn't unfriendly fire incidents be a more pressing concern? Are there any plausible explanations for Turkey's schizophrenia over the last month? If their purpose is to prevent a Kurdish state, wouldn't the best bet have been to allow the Americans to open a northern front? If that's still the goal now, wouldn't the smart move still be to let the U.S. sort it out? Do they have reason to believe the U.S. is going to want to break up Iraq (which I'd doubt)? Are they just looking to grab a little oil while the gettin's good? These aren't rhetorical questions; I'm interested in hearing comments. Does Turkey have any goal here, other than to make American diplomacy look competent by comparison?

NEXT: Ahlan Wa Sahlan

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  1. Turkey has wanted to expel their Kurds for a long time, if not kill them outright. A land grab in the name of “securing our borders” and an expulsion of “dangerous dissidents”–if not “terrorists”–isn’t entirely out of the question. Turkey is a very odd, conflicted place, and they bear watching closely.

    If I recall, there were some recent oil & gas discoveries in the former Soviet states north of Iraq, and a pipeline to the gulf is the most efficient way of extracting the dinosaur mulch.
    We may want Turkey to squat over Iraq and buffer the former USSR.

  2. Initially, I thought the Turkish denial of access for US ground troops might be kissing up to France & Germany, but if they put their own troops into Iraq instead that will really piss off the Europeans.

    Best I can figure now is they thought they might be able to create a little non-Kurdish cordon sanitaire in Iraw while the world was otherwise occupied. I think the US is hoping even a few American troops in the neighborhood will disuade them. We’ll see.

  3. My feeling’s been that the US doesn’t want to break up Iraq, but that Iraq wants to break up Iraq. The Kurds, the Sunni, the Shia… who says they want to cooperate as one nation? And if they don’t, will outsiders have to force them into being one nation as part of their “freedom”?

    If or when Saddam is ousted, the resulting land mass could be more choatic than the current Afghanistan, simply because there is more to exploit by the resulting factions (oil, gas, etc.) It may wind up being more hospitable to fundamentalist Islam in many areas which is the opposite of what the US wants. Would the coalition need to create a police state to keep order? Why would an Iraqi find that better than the status quo?

    It may be that the way to fight Islamic terrorism is to let it burn itself out rather than fan its flames.

    I don’t have a crystal ball, and neither does anyone else.

  4. Kudos on the headline, Tim.

  5. It might be in the Turkish leadership’s interest to give the US access to bases and get free rein over Iraqi Kurdistan in return. Thing is, Turkey’s an anomaly in the region: it’s a functioning democracy, and decisions on things like letting US forces amass and launch operations from within its borders aren’t up to the prime minister or president. They’re up to the parliament, and the funny thing about parliaments is they often vote based on each member’s local concerns. Since the Kurdish separatists have quieted down and focused a lot of their efforts on working within the system since Ocalan was arrested, Turkish voters–especially outside Kurdistan–probably don’t care all that much about the Kurds compared to the economy, EU integration and maybe the recent push to bring some Islam back into government and society.

    Just a guess.


    “By far my biggest worry now is Turkish involvement (20% chance). What’s becoming clear is that the leaders of the AKP are inexperienced and are not operating on the same wavelength as we are. The negotiations about use of their territory failed, and apparently the reason why is that they misjudged the situation. It’s reported that they seem to have assumed that their participation was critical (that the US had no “Plan B”) and thus that they could hold out both for more money and, more importantly, for the right to move substantial forces into the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. Now they’re being told that we won’t permit that, but what I’m most afraid of is that the government of Turkey will again misjudge the situation and decide that they can get away with it. Thus the nightmare scenario would be a very large and aggressive movement of Turkish forces (say, a division or more) a long way into Iraqi territory (20 miles or more) where they’d be met by strong Kurdish resistance. Right now the Kurds are strongly cooperating with the US, and we have some people attached to their command and would have the ability to call for airstrikes, and we might have to. When all is said and done, we need Kurdish cooperation now more than Turkish in the aftermath of the war, and I really don’t want to see us be forced to bomb the Turkish military. Our negotiators failed to impress the AKP with the fact that they were not actually essential in the previous round of discussions. I hope that they are more emphatic now in making clear that we will slaughter their army if it goes too far into Iraq. Otherwise we may actually have to, and that would be extremely bad.”

    “What the AKP government tried to do was to make a deal with us whereby we’d give them a pile of money and also give them carte blanche to do whatever they wanted militarily in northern Iraq, while at the same time letting them wait to publicly make the deal, and to defer our troop movements, until there was a UNSC resolution on war so as to provide them with political cover with their voters. That would have been the best of all worlds: they get money; they’d get to stomp the Kurds; and they would minimize the domestic political damage by citing the UN.

    “And because they thought that we had decided we could not move without their help, they assumed they were in an excellent bargaining position and tried to go for broke on the concessions. They don’t seem to have realized that though we really wanted to use their territory, we didn’t really have to, so they overplayed their hand and we eventually told them to get stuffed. There had been an extremely generous offer by us of direct grants and loans, and it was withdrawn.”

  7. all this realpolitick thinking ignores the basic reality that 93% of the population is strongly against the war. Add to the mix that we didn’t deliver on any of the money we promised them in the first Gulf War, and you can see how brilliantly they’ve played their weak hand. They used whatever leverage is at their disposal to get what they want, which, as far as I see, is exactly what they have now — no U.S. troops, a presence in the fighting, and an even better chance to join the EU. Do people think the US will invade Turkey? That would be the official beginning of WWIII to be sure, absurd, but, hey, there is talk of a secret offensive through Jordan, so the end of the idiocy is clearly not in sight.

  8. You think this makes Turkey more likely to join the EU?

    The only people fighting for their joining was the US, who they just pissed off.

  9. Turkey believes that everyone is out to screw it. This is an unsurprising conclusion — the last gulf war cost Turkey $60b, of which it was compensated very little, and this one will be worse; the US has not made more than vague promises about not letting the Kurds get their own state; nobody is talking about the Turkoman minority in Iraq. So looking into the future for best-possible outcomes, there’s a fair chance that the military is seeing a Palestine-style occupation of Kurdish territory as its best option going forward.

    They likely see their choice as controlling all of the Kurdish territory in Iraq, or losing all the Kurdish territory in Turkey; nobody has given them any reason to believe that an intermediate solution is practical or has support beyond lip-service from the US and others. Given that choice, naturally they want troops in Iraq.

  10. Here’s Colby Cosh’s answer:

  11. Slate has a “Kurd Sell Out Watch” for those interested.

  12. In 1974 the turks invaded northern Cyprus, chased out the greeks, repopulated with turks from the mainland, and got away with it. The turkish minority and oil production in northern Iraq provide pretext and motivation for trying it again. Pushing the kurdish problem further east would be a bonus.

  13. I’m worried that this indicates that the Turkish Army is once again going to become more actively involved in running (or should that be “ruining”) current affairs. Turkish governments must always perform a delicate balancing act between what they feel they must do, politically, with how much the Army will _let_ them do, practically. Remember that old Bugs Bunny cartoon, where Bugs and Sam are tiptoe-ing through the lions’ den? That’s the Turkish government through and through. One wrong step, and it’s all-you-can eat at the kittycat buffet table.

    That being said, I still don’t see how the Army figures that they’ve done the right thing: keeping Uncle Sam onside has always been a strong priority for the Army, and this latest series of escapades will do anything _but_ keep the US happy. They’ve managed to piss off the EU (or, France and Germany anyway) by even negotiating with the US at all. They’ve similarly enraged the rest of the Islamic world for the same reason.

    And, to top it all off, if they do decide to “secure their borders” by moving into Kurdistan, they’re bound to run into US/UK/Australian special forces troops…which will permanently ruin their chances of cuddling back up with the US.

    In summary, I just don’t get it…

  14. I think the conflict here is actually pretty straightforword. The problem the Turkish government faces is that it is in Turkey’s best interests to allow the US to use their border as a northern front, but the Turkish people themselves are, at the moment, vehemently opposed to allowing it.

    Thus, Turkey finds itself in a situation where the politicians have a choice between acting against their nation’s best interests, or acting against their own electoral best interests. Thus, the hemming and hawing.

  15. If Turkey moves in force into Iraq, they can forget EU membership.

    But maybe they think EU membership wasn’t going to happen anyway, or think that now that they’ve pissed off the US, who was their only big fan for EU membership, they’ve got nothing left to lose with the EU.

  16. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/26/2004 12:16:31
    Good people strengthen themselves ceaselessly.

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