Iraq: March 4, 2003

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Turkish politics is working in Saddam's favor. The original American war plan was to move two divisions through Turkey and into Kurdish controlled northern Iraq. Most of the Iraqi armed forces are in northern Iraq, between the Kurdish area and Baghdad. Most of these troops are expected to quickly surrender, but they have to see some American bombs and tanks first. And the northern half of the Republican Guard may put up a fight, which a few battalions of American M-1 tanks can quickly take care of. 

But Turkey has just gone through a political upheaval. The recent national elections put a "clean government" party in power and tossed out most of the corrupt legislators that the voters have been getting increasingly tired of. All previous Turkish governments had been very pro-American, but the new crowd wants to show that they are not American lapdogs. Moreover, the media in most Moslem nations, including Turkey, have found it useful to pitch the threatened American invasion of Iraq as a "war on Islam." As a result, most of the population is against removing Saddam by force. But here's where it gets really strange. Saddam's refusal to get rid of his chemical, nuclear and biological weapons has kept the UN embargo on Iraq, which has crippled the Iraqi economy and much of the economy in eastern Turkey, which depends on trade with Iraq. The Turks have been complaining about this since 1991, but they don't want Iraq to get nuclear weapons, and don't want to go in and remove Saddam themselves. So when the United States says, "we'll do it," the Turks responded by demanding "compensation" for any collateral damage done to Turkey. Never mind the fact that removing Saddam will result in the elimination of Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons program, get Iraq's oil and economy flowing again, and return prosperity to eastern Turkey. The U.S. played along, and came up with a package that was mostly loans, plus a few billion in direct aid (that would be made up by less giveaways in future years.) It was all for show. But many Turkish legislators got caught up in the "no war on Islam" rhetoric and voted down the deal. 

The Turkish government is now having fits, for they know well that future aid from the U.S. (which has to be granted by Congress) will be much less generous. Who's going to give money to people too dumb to act in their own best interest? The day after parliament voted down the deal, the Turkish stock market dropped 11 percent, with further declines likely. The government is twisting arms for another parliamentary vote on the matter. U.S. ships, carrying the weapons and equipment of the 4th Mechanized Division, are still sitting off the Turkish coast, apparently waiting for the second vote. 

Once these ships head for the Suez canal (and Kuwait), it's all over for the Turkish front. The U.S. will have to launch it's invasion just from Kuwait. This will not be a disaster. It will be more expensive, as more American tanks, trucks and helicopters will have to cover more miles advancing from Kuwait, to Baghdad and the Turkish border. Saddam will still be out of power and it's unlikely Iraqi soldiers will fight any more diligently for their hated ruler. 

But Turkey will be the big loser. The one time we needed them, to do something that was in their own interest, they followed the headlines instead and let down their long time ally. Many Turks know that this will cost Turkey big time, for a long time. And that's what may get the American troops into Turkey eventually anyway.

 

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