U.S. plans to use Turkey as a springboard for a northern front against Iraq ran into an obstacle when Ankara demanded more than double the multibillion- dollar economic aid package the Bush administration originally offered to cushion Turkey from losses it may incur during a possible war.
Turkish lawmakers had been expected to vote Tuesday on allowing an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 American combat troops to use the country’s military bases in a potential Iraq campaign. But the government postponed the vote, saying it would not consider letting the troops deploy unless the United States agrees to its new demands: $30 billion in grants and long-term loans.
“The United States is Turkey’s strategic partner, but if we are going to act together, if our existence and support is meaningful and important for the United States, then the United States has to take into account our sensitivities and treat our demands with goodwill,” said Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the governing Justice and Development Party, in remarks carried by Turkey’s Anatolia news agency.
“The other side must meet our demands, and if they do, we shall see,” Erdogan said.
From the U.S. perspective, time is of the essence. Four American ships carrying tanks and other heavy equipment for the Army’s 4th Infantry Division are off the Turkish coast and awaiting landing permission. Between 20 and 30 ships able to supply the full complement of troops Washington wants to send to Turkey are expected to arrive shortly.
Pentagon officials said a decision must be made within the next 48 hours before the equipment is sent elsewhere and the war plans redrawn.
Analysts and politicians in Ankara warn that as Turkish leaders haggle with the White House, they must be careful not to overestimate Turkey’s strategic importance for military planners in Washington.
If Ankara wants to have any say in the war’s aftermath, it had better make up its mind soon — or risk damaging its relations with the United States, its key ally, and not getting the loans it desperately needs to recover from the country’s worst economic crisis since World War II.
“It is not in the interests of Turkey not to allow U.S. troops,” said Mustafa Ziya, the official representative of the country’s ethnic Iraqi Turkomans in Ankara. “Turkey is interested in Washington’s benevolence. I think it will all be solved in the next few days.”
U.S. combat troops streaming in from the north could draw Iraqi divisions away from defending Baghdad, thereby shortening the war, according to U.S. military planners. But Washington has hinted it will go ahead without Turkey’s help if Ankara continues to drag its feet.
“It will be settled one way or another rather soon,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. “We continue to work with Turkey as a friend. But it is decision time. We will find out what the ultimate outcome is.”
What the Bush administration terms its “final” offer of aid to Turkey is a package consisting of about $6 billion in forgiven loans and up to $20 billion in loan guarantees. That is substantially more than Washington’s initial offer of $14 billion.
GULF WAR COSTLY
Turkey estimates it lost $30 billion in the first Gulf War, and politicians in Ankara say they are not keen to get shorted again.
Lawmaker Inal Batu of the opposition Republican party called the latest U.S.
offer “chicken feed,” adding, “we have already lost $6 billion since the beginning of this crisis in tourism and trade.”
Batu, who opposes the deployment of U.S. troops in Turkey, said a larger economic package might help tone down the Turkish public’s aversion to a war with Iraq. A recent poll by the Strateji/GFK polling agency in Istanbul showed that more than 90 percent of Turks are against any Turkish involvement in a military campaign against Iraq.
Husnu Ondul, head of the Human Rights Association, based in Ankara, attributed Turkey’s delay to an attempt to show its people that the country is “not an American puppet.
“The government is trying to show that it is resisting America — but it is just for show,” said Ondul, who expects Turkey to vote by the end of the week to allow U.S. troops into the country.
Other analysts say Turkey needs American support in the event Kurds in northern Iraq move to create an independent state in what is now an autonomous,
no-fly zone protected by U.S. and British warplanes. Such a move is one of Ankara’s biggest fears, especially as it could trigger nationalist aspirations among Turkey’s 12 million Kurds. Turkey is still staggering from a 15-year conflict with Kurdish separatists that left an estimated 37,000 dead.
Turkey also fears that the Iraqi Kurds might take over Iraq’s oil-rich region around Kirkuk — just beyond the border of the no-fly zone — with its estimated reserves of more than 10 billion barrels of oil.
Although the United States has promised Turkey — much to the Iraqi Kurds’ chagrin — that it would not allow an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, Turkey wants to send tens of thousands of its own troops into the region just to make sure.
“We are going to war alongside the United States in part because we are afraid the United States otherwise will create a Kurdish state,” said Hasan Koni, a political analyst in Ankara.
Turkey also needs to be on America’s good side so Washington will continue to lobby for Ankara to be accepted into the European Union. U.S. support is also key in securing international loans Turkey needs to recover from its deep economic crisis, which has seen nearly 2 million people lose their jobs.
E-mail Anna Badkhen at email@example.com.