Iraq: October 8, 2003

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On October 7, Turkey's parliament ratified the government's request to send Turkish peacekeeping troops into northern Iraq. The vote permitted the government to determine the appropriate number of troops (ie, set no limits on troop levels) but did limit the deployment to one year. Turkey and the US have been wrangling over the use of Turkish troops in post-Saddam Iraq for several months, but in the last two months the talks began to focus on liaison and tactical issues. As StrategyPage noted, this indicated an agreement was in the works. This puts the forces of a major Muslim nation in Iraq as peacekeepers, which is a political coup for the US. At the same time, the troops are (of course) Turks. Turkey has numerous current interests in Iraq as well as deep historical connections. Many Kurds and Arabs in Iraq have abundant reasons to distrust Turkey. There is also the possibility of political blowback inside Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is taking a huge domestic political risk. To say the majority of the Turkish population is uneasy about getting involved in Iraq puts it mildly. There "Kurdish card" is another issue. Turkey wants to eliminate the remnant PKK Kurd rebel cadres in northern Iraq and at the same time have decent relations with Iraqi Kurd groups. Turkish Kurds have a long list of legitimate political and cultural gripes with the Turkish government. The Turkish government and Turk Kurds are trying to resolve these through the political process, and that process is slow. Many Kurds don't trust it. If the "Turkish expedition" into Iraq is a failure (and Turks end up fighting Iraqi Kurd groups), the domestic political resolution process could fall apart. Erdogan knows this. He also wants to improve the Turk-American political relationship, which frayed when the Turkish parliament refused to let US forces launch a "northern front" against Saddam from Turkey. As NATO allies, Turk and American troops do know how to work with one another. There will be, of course, the usual operational glitches. The hope is a mistake doesn't turn into a huge political fiasco. What kind of mistake could lead to a fiasco? A friendly fire incident where a US aircraft accidentally strafes Turkish troops-- consider the understandably angry political fallout of the US airstrike on Canadian forces in Afghanistan. Between the US and Turkey the situation would be much worse. Perhaps the worst situation would be a case of mistaken identity, where Turkish troops, fearing guerrilla attack, fire on Iraqi Kurdish militia. That tangle would be tough to resolve. That's also a situation Al Qaeda operatives and Saddam supporters will try to arrange. (Austin Bay)


 

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