Turkey: Send in the Troops

It would be tantamount to a “resurrection of a big mistake,” snapped Fehmi Koru in Zaman (July 22). At issue was the U.S. request for the deployment of  Turkish troops in northern Iraq to help American forces oust Kurdish militants. Turkish cooperation would ease the strained relations between the two NATO allies that went sour in March after the Turkish Parliament blocked a U.S. attempt to open a northern front on Iraq from Turkish soil. The ensuing dispute sundered decades of mutual confidence. The Turkish Parliament will decide at the end of August or in early September whether to draft a bill to authorize the deployment of  Turkish troops.

The media regarded the U.S. request with suspicion. “The government has to find an answer to the public that is asking ‘sending the troops for what?’ ” wrote Fikret Bila in Milliyet (Aug. 1), under the headline “Vietnam Syndrome.” Bila went on to say: “Turkey is aiming to mend relations with the United States and wants to be a contractor, a notion that will never be acceptable to the Turkish public.” But on Aug. 8, Bila opined: “Turkey’s national interests would be served by Turkey’s having a say in Iraq’s political restructuring, in Iraq’s gaining stability, and in the preservation of Iraq’s territorial integrity.”

Sami Kohen, writing in the same paper (Aug. 2), asserted, however, that it was “a correct approach for the government not to rush its decision.”

Other commentators pointed to the fact that it was obvious that the United States was keen to smooth over the major row between the two countries, but they also cautioned that a deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq would not be in Turkey’s best interests. Nevertheless, “America Wants Us!” cheered a headline in Radikal (July 29). The common tenor among Turkish columnists was that now that things were not going as planned in Iraq, the Bush administration was coming under increased pressure “to view Turkey in a different light,” according to Sedat Ergin in Milliyet (July 29). “It is a fact that Turkey will remain in the heart of a region where enormous U.S. strategic interests lie,” Ergin concluded. “The two sides have seen that they have no choice other than walking hand in hand once again.”

Koru, writing in Zaman (July 22), voiced what many Turkish commentators seemed to suspect: “The U.S. is trying to share with others the responsibility of being an occupying force in Iraq.” And Hürriyet’s Ferai Tinc (Aug. 4) mused: “Imagine what the reaction would be if  Turkish troops entered Iraq to support an occupation force….Iraq is not Afghanistan [where Turkish troops are already stationed]. A Turkish troop presence in Iraq would do more harm than good—unless the Iraqi people invite [us].”

An editorial in Radikal (Aug. 7) warned that by sending Turkish troops to Iraq without a United Nations mandate, “Turkey would become an occupier. A potential U.N. decision must be awaited.”

Such a U.N. decision would also eliminate the need for Parliament to act. Hürriyet, however, concluded in an editorial (Aug. 7): “We would go to Iraq for the sake of tranquillity.” And Milliyet’s editors added (Aug. 7): “Turkey cannot be a bystander.”