Iraq: July 17, 2003

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Over the past week several reports have appeared in the Turkish and international press concerning Turkey's continuing anger about the arrest of Turkish special forces soldiers by US troops in northern Iraq. (The arrest of 11 Turk special forces troops took place July 4. The men were released after being detained 60 hours.) The arrests exacerbated an already strained relationship between the US and Turkey, stemming from Turkey's decision to not let the US establish a "northern front" against Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom.The arrests particularly angered a key constituency in Turkey, the Turkish military. In fact, one report said senior Turkish military officers had called the arrests the gravest of diplomatic rows between the US and Turkey. However, Turkey and the US both need one another --- they have too many common interests that often get lost in the day to day reporting of diplomatic troubles. Now Turkey and the US have issued a statement (dated July 15) that they have agreed to "confidence restoring measures" that will improve cooperation in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. Turkey has real interests in the area. After all, Turkey is still fighting a PKK insurgency that uses the area as a base of operations. There was a "quiet" diplomatic disagreement about the statement, however. Turkey issued it before the US State Department had approved the statement, but that was solved. Both Turkey and the US said they "regret" the arrest incident and will set up "permanent committees" to avoid future incidents. Still, the US maintained it had reports of "disturbing activities" (by the Turkish troops). Turkey said those reports were false. What could these confidence restoring measures include? "Permanent committees" implies direct liaison. Closer tactical cooperation between US and Turkish special operations troops is another possible step, such as directly assigning US liaison officers to Turkish units. Improved intelligence sharing is another. (Austin Bay)

American soldiers who appeared on television to complain of delays in sending them home from Iraq were warned by the senior American commander in the Middle East that they were in violation of military law in publicly questioning their terms of service. This is the down side of embedding reporters with units. To make that work, you had to trust the troops to know what they could say, and not say. Moreover, the media needs stories that emphasize tragedy and disaster and this leads to reporting that emphasizes (often inaccurately) dangers that are exaggerated or don't even exist. This in turn lowers morale. A recent newspaper reader survey in Britain showed that people who read tabloid newspapers that feature crime stories are twice as afraid of being a victim of crime as those who read less sensationalistic papers. This is a situation that has existed for over a century. But this sort of thing is now seeing in a combat zone. Unlike past wars, where troops were cut off from mass media while in a combat zone, there is more internet and cell phone access for troops in Iraq. Plus, there are plenty of journalists looking for unhappy troops. That is never hard to find, although veterans of past wars are quick to point out that US troops in Iraq have suffered far fewer casualties, and been "in country" for less time than in the past. 


 

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