October 10, 2003


Why America Needs Turkey in Iraq (ASLA AYDINTASBAS, October 10, 2003, NY Times)

Because they are Sunni Muslims from the same neighborhood, Turks are attuned to the cultural concerns and needs of the conservative (and by now irate) population in central Iraq. Sunni leaders remain alienated from the transition process in Baghdad, fearing Kurdish and Shiite domination and wary of Washington's motives. Some are convinced they will be punished for Saddam Hussein's misdeeds; others find "infidels" searching their homes and policing their towns an affront.

But Sunnis are as critical to Iraq's stability as the Pashtun were to Afghanistan. Whatever structure emerges in Iraq cannot be hostile to this ancient elite. In this, Turks can serve as a bridge between the Sunnis and American troops, helping to ease the resistance to intervention and potentially overcoming the Saddam Hussein holdouts in the area. During meetings in Ankara and Iraq over the summer, Sunni clerics and tribal leaders told Turkish officials that, if it's a question between American forces and Turks, they'll take the latter.

Sending Turkish soldiers would also be the only real way to repair the Turkish-American alliance, much damaged since the Turkish Parliament's decision in March to stay out of the war. Yes, there have been other "lows" in this half-century partnership, the strength of which was a crucial asset for Washington during the cold war and in containing Saddam Hussein over the last decade. But this time, Ankara not only lost a good deal in American aid, but was also sentenced to remain on the margins of events at the birth of a new Iraq.

Senior Defense Department officials openly blamed the Turkish military for "failing to provide leadership." Turkish companies were left out of major reconstruction bids. But what's the point of shunning the most powerful democracy in the region when the United States has very few allies in Iraq? Critics of Turkish troop deployment should bear in mind that Ankara has made a strategic decision that "U.S. success in Iraq is in Turkey's long-term interests," as told to American officials by the Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, in a visit to Washington. This sets Turkey apart from Iraq's other neighbors -- and much of the Middle East and Europe.

Prosperity in Iraq would mean Turks could do business there; democracy would finally usher in a second Muslim parliamentary model; stability would guarantee that northern Iraq is no longer a staging ground for attacks against Turkish citizens by Turkey's own Kurdish guerrillas, the Kurdistan Workers Party. Are there ulterior motives here? Yes, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was unstable, poor and dangerous for Turkey. Now there is a chance to change that.

They are more than welcome to take on the Sunni triangle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 10, 2003 8:53 AM

The Turkish army's reputation for ruthlessness should serve it well there. I wonder if there'll have to be a demonstration...

Posted by: Mike Earl at October 10, 2003 9:50 AM

Let's hope they have a barracks explosion early on to get their dander up.

Posted by: oj at October 10, 2003 9:56 AM

An "ancient elite" - now would the NYT ever describe other troublesome groups in that way?

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 10, 2003 2:22 PM

The U.S. has only one friend in Islam, and we're selling that one out, again.

True, the Kurds are not very much ax friends, but they do have scarcity value.

Same mistake as in South Vietnam. If there ever was any chance of swinging any part of Islam toward accommodation with western values, Bush just blew it away.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 10, 2003 4:04 PM

How many Kurds fought in Korea?

Posted by: oj at October 10, 2003 4:12 PM

Besides which, nobody's talking about basing the Turks in Kurdistan. In fact, unless I am very much mistaken in reading the various accounts, the U.S. wants to keep the Turkish garrison as far away from Kurds as possible, which, among other reasons, is why they're being sent to the Sunni Triangle.

Posted by: Joe at October 10, 2003 7:47 PM

True and correct but irrelvant, Joe.

Stop thinking like an American and think like a Moslem. What do you see?

Rewards for people who told us to go to hell, nothing for those who stood by us.

I'm not saying the Kurds stood by us for any reasons other than purely selfish. Purely selfish counts in international relations, though.

And I'm on record as saying Islam is hopeless, that Bush is deluded and that his policy is bound to fail.

Let's say, though, I'm wrong. Give Bush the benefit of every doubt. What he just did ruined that project.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 10, 2003 10:21 PM

So why shouldn't the Turks be selfish and take the oil fields?

Posted by: oj at October 10, 2003 11:29 PM