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POWEL VISITS ANKARA to repair ruptured US-Turkish relations.


Paper No. 653                                                05.04.2003

by K. Gajendra Singh

 "Kirkuk is a disaster waiting to happen," Human Right Watch

The importance of being Turkey has been brought home to war mongers and war watchers alike  more so after the brave resistance put up by the fighting forces of Iraq,  even after the country having been under severe  sanctions since 1990 and its armed forces having been degraded during the 1991 Gulf war.  A second front from south east Turkey into north Iraq would have made all the difference, but on 1st March the Turkish parliament had voted against a government supported motion to permit US troops use of Turkish bases in south east Turkey, after ham handed public arm twisting by US leaders and its media. The latter has now been reduced to becoming propaganda machines and purveyors of half truths and lies to advance Anglo-American policies and objectives.  This has been admirably shown up and exposed by independent Arabic channel Al Jazeera.  US Turkish rift also left the new inexperienced Justice and Development party (AKP) government some what isolated and a rapprochement between the two, NATO allies since 1950s, was very much on the cards. 

Shuffling down jerkily along his aircraft ladder railing on 1st April night at Ankara, a tired and fatigued Colin Powell’s body language said it all.  The result of US Secretary of State’s one day visit to repair US relations with a now some what recalcitrant Turkey, its faithful ally for 50 years, can at best be described as resumption of visits after a howling display of matrimonial acrimony in public by a long and happily married couple.  But the restoration of full conjugal relations is still far off.  If in early 1950s, Turkey threatened by the Soviet Union needed NATO’s shelter, it is now USA which needs Turkey more than the other way round.  Not only to salvage the war against Iraq going badly, but for future stability and security of the region.  It would have been so even if USA’s dreamed up war plans had been fulfilled .But the hawks in the Washington administration, who were more responsible than the Turks for almost a rupture in the relationship, are not chastened, even though the so declared and much expected  swift capitulation of Iraqi forces and Iraqi citizens rushing out to greet  and hug their Anglo-American liberators, has not happened.  Anyway after the exchange of harsh words and brickbats both sides have sobered up. Even the Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a former head of the Constitutional Court and a stickler for international legality for the war, had  relented and said a few days ago that there was no U.S. demand from Turkey at that stage for a possible Turkish contribution to the Iraq war effort.  "If a demand comes from the U.S., Turkey will then consider it, " Prime minister Recep Erdogan and more specially foreign minister Abdullah Gul had made soothing noises about close relationship, mutual respect and understanding. Turkey's westernised secular media had taken the inexperienced AKP leadership with its Islamic bias to task for taking a hard stand.

En route to Ankara, Powell told reporters that the US administration would ask for Turkish support, but did not specify exactly what kind of support this might entail.  But we are not looking at any requests.  We were looking at a month or so ago, added  Powell, apparently referring to a US troop deployment request turned down by the Turkish parliament.  These would be requests having to do with just sustaining the operation, our operations in northern Iraq, and should be not difficult for the Turks to accommodate.  Stressing that the White House and US Congress had been disappointed by Parliament’s rejection of the US troop deployment proposal, Powell said, I think if we see full cooperation in the days ahead, and especially full support for humanitarian efforts as well as to support our troops that are now in northern Iraq, then I think this would help  in passing $1 billion in aid proposed for Turkey. 

On 2nd April afternoon, according to the agreement announced at a joint Press conference held by Colin Powell and Turkey's foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, after a full day of meetings including with Prime minister Recep Erdogan, Turkey would  permit use of its territory to supply food, fuel and other necessities to American military forces operating in the northern Iraqi theater .This  would help American military actions in the war with Iraq . Turkey also agreed officially to let American military planes in distress and American service personnel wounded in battle land in Turkish territory, although such help was extended earlier informally.  Abdullah Gul clarified that the new agreement would not require approval by the parliament. 

Details relating to the exact nature of supplies for American forces in northern Iraq were withheld.  It was unclear whether the supplies would include weapons.  But American officials were clearly pleased that Turkey would be playing a more important supporting role for the Iraq war, and that this step in turn would make it easier to secure Congressional backing for $1 billion in economic assistance for Turkey requested by President Bush. Powell told Turkey some thing  which it wanted to hear: that northern Iraq would remain under coalition control and that Turkey would have a place at the table in the reconstruction of northern Iraq.

In a separate but important part of the agreement, Mr. Powell said the United States and Turkey would establish a monitoring group to watch northern Iraq to make sure no conditions arose that might compel Turkey to send its troops across the border into Iraq. 

Powell said there was no reason for Turkey to intervene. He said that such a move would destabilize the Kurdish-controlled region in northern Iraq. The Ankara government fears that northern Iraq could become a base for Kurdish rebels, which have cost Turkey dearly. The war could also flood Turkey with refugees, which unlike 1991 has not happened so far. 

The agreement also provides for setting up a US ?Turkish joint monitoring group to watch the border situation with Iraq to make sure there are no conditions that would compel Turkey to send its troops across the border.  Turkish officials praised the accord on the monitoring group but said it did not serve as a definitive roadblock to Turkish intervention in Iraq.  A few small protest groups demonstrated against Powell’s visit, but they were kept away  But just before he left, Powell got into an angry exchange with a national television interviewer who several times interrupted his defense of the war and interjected antiwar comments.  He asked Powell to stop the war.  Mr. Powell, clearly upset, ripped off his microphone and left the studio abruptly. 

It may be recalled that the Turkish parliament had shot down the government sponsored vote to allow use of Turkish bases to US troops in south east Turkey to open a second front against Iraq .The ruling AK Party with Islamic orientation has a 2/3rd majority in the house, but many deputies are  from south and east and have Kurdish and Arab blood and relations across the frontier with Iraq.  Over 100 deputies had voted with the opposition on 1st March.  With broadcast of TV pictures of innocent civilians being killed every day in Baghdad and elsewhere, there was no hope of greater help being approved by the parliament. There have been persistent rumours of the break up in the ruling party if such a vote was forced upon. On 21 March parliament had granted permission to let US use Turkey’s airspace, but there have been some unpleasant incidents. Permission to over fly Turkish air space was suspended when some cruise missiles landed in Turkish territory. ( During the war on Yugoslavia in 1999, a few had landed near Sofia in Bulgaria- that is for smart weapons.) When some US personnel went to collect the missile pieces, they were stoned and met with eggs. 

Turkey’s  90%  population remains opposed to a war on Muslim Iraq, that too without a UN sanction. There are regular demonstrations against war in its cities.  But many problems remain.  How can Turkey trust USA ? Turkey was let down after the 1991 war, which caused it losses running into tens of billions, for which it was not compensated by USA in spite of promises  (there are lessons for India in its relations with USA, but India remains enchanted with USA ).  Take the question of territorial integrity of Iraq. Iraq has been divided dejure since 1991 with Iraqi forces debarred from entering Kurdish controlled areas in the north, which now has  a parliament and a government with a prime minister. This was done by the Anglo American governments, who have maintained no flying zone for Iraqi aircraft, called operation provide comfort,  to protect Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s forces, against the wishes of the other members of the UN Security Council and much of the international community since 1991.  USA had threatened to use an unused aerodrome in Kurdish north Iraq for this operation, so Turkey reluctantly let USA use its airbase at Incirlik near Adana,  which had provided little comfort to Turks and its extension every 6 months rubbed in the discomfort After the war this arrangement has now lapsed and the US aircrafts had to leave. 

Even if Iraqi forces just disappear from Iraqi Kurdistan as north Iraq is known, what are the expectations from Kurds and what are their expectations?  After 12 years of de jure independence in their enclaves, never mind their squabbling (we tribals have always lived like that ) they will expect if not full independence then unlimited autonomy in internal affairs and control over massive revenues from oil in Kirkuk region.  The northern Alliance representing minority Afghan population, now have majority share of power in spite of  US security service protected head of state in Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. The alliance had entered Kabul ignoring US demand not to do so.  Many Kurds at the sight of Kirkuk and its wealth of oil wells, might even declare unilateral independence. Then would Turkey wait? 

But before that there could even be a civil war In the words of Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative in Erbil, north Iraq- "Widespread reprisal killings, retaliatory forced displacement, and other acts of violence against resettled families are possible once tens of thousands of forcibly displaced people return to reclaim their homes. Oil-rich Kirkuk, currently under Iraqi government control, has been the target of U.S. aerial bombing for the last several days. U.S. paratroopers have landed in Iraqi Kurdistan and it is likely that U.S. and coalition ground forces will enter the city in the near future," said HRW.  "Kirkuk is a disaster waiting to happen," said Hania Mufti, London director for the Middle East and North Africa Division of HRW, now based in Erbil, in the statement released by the HRW. "If a plan for the gradual and orderly return of these displaced civilians is not drawn up soon and implemented before the ground offensive begins, there is a real possibility that the city will erupt into inter-ethnic violence." 

Since the 1991 Gulf War, it has been reported that the Iraqi government has systematically expelled around 120,000 Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians from Kirkuk and other towns and villages in this oil-rich region.  Most have settled in the Kurdish-controlled northern provinces. Meanwhile, in a process called  "Arabization."  the Iraqi government has resettled Arab families in their place in an attempt to reduce the political power and presence of ethnic minorities. 

HRW researchers based in north Iraq said the U.S. has not prepared for the return of  displaced residents of Kirkuk, HRW said. "We have found no evidence that U.S. political and military leaders have prepared for the consequences of a massive influx of returnees with grievances against those who forced them from their homes, as well as those who now live in their homes," said Mufti in the written statement. 

During talks in Ankara in March 2003, U.S., Turkish and Iraqi opposition officials had discussed the idea of creating a coalition commission to oversee issues relating to the northern front, including the orderly return of internally displaced people to Kirkuk.  "To date, however, no such commission has been established.  Kurdish officials told Human Rights Watch that they were uncertain as to the role of their armed forces during any eventual ground offensive on Kirkuk.  Both Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mas'ud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani have agreed to commit their Pesh Merga forces only with U.S.  approval and under its command. Until now, the United States has not asked for such participation, but that position could change in the light of Turkey's refusal to grant access to U.S. forces through its territory. "It is paramount that the United States immediately address the consequences of a future assault on Kirkuk," said Mufti. HRW urged the United States to make concrete plans for the gradual and orderly return of forcibly displaced residents, for the control of mass population flows, for the removal of land mines and unexploded ordinance, and for the implementation of security measures to deal with any outbreaks of violence.   

In recent days, Human Rights Watch researchers have met with representatives of the Iraqi opposition, including the PUK, KDP, the Iraqi Turkoman Front, and the Iraqi National Congress, to discuss what preparations have been made to regulate the return of displaced families to Kirkuk.  Kurdish officials have expressed serious concern about the potential for inter-ethnic violence in the city, but said there was very little they could do to stop a large-scale return since displaced families had every right to reclaim their homes as soon as possible.  Some also said that 'a significant number' of Arab families settled in Kirkuk had already left and that they hoped their departure would mitigate any violence.  However, more recent information indicates that the Iraqi government has forcibly returned some of these Arab families to Kirkuk and to a number of villages in the province that were also included in the 'Arabization' process." HRW, called on all parties to the conflict in Iraq to respect the safety and freedom of movement rights of all Iraqi citizens, including their right to choose a place of residence, and to move to a place of safety either inside or outside Iraq. 

"Under international humanitarian law, the U.S.-led forces have a duty to restore and ensure public order and safety in territories under their authority from the moment they establish effective control over them.  In order to do so, they need to devote enough personnel to ensure public safety, grant protection to all noncombatants, and prevent the occurrence of acts of reprisal or revenge," said HRW.  This was also emphasized some time ago after the war had started by UN secretary general Kofi Annan in New York.  He had said that it was the duty of the belligerents to look after the safety, welfare, food and other  requirements of the population in the area under their control.  And finally, this illegal and immoral Iraq war named “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is an exercise in insulting the sensibilities of the entire world specially of the Arab and Islamic Ummah .  

American corporate interests are already drawing plans to divide Iraq’s carcass for its benefit. Even west European countries who are opposed to the war, like Germany are looking for a share, its foreign minister expressed hope that the regime should fall as early as possible.  A divide between the US and UK led west and the Arab and third world seem to be emerging , but it is unlikely to succeed. 

The Iraqis are a proud, educated and highly motivated people, who had killed their British appointed King Feisel  and his much hated prime minister Nuri el Said in 1958 . Can some one be more dumb than that? The days of colonisation are gone. In stead of trying to provide protection to US citizens at home West is dreaming up new conquests.  Black Muslim sniper Mohammed in US capital Washington and grenade attack by a black  Muslim US Sergeant on its own forces in Kuwait are only the tips of the iceberg which might bring terrorism into the very heart of USA,  a country with only a few hundred years of experiment in nation building.  Instead to imagine and try to establish an empire in the Middle East based on control from Baghdad is fool hardy. Thousands of Muslims are coming from all over the Islamic world; Sunnis  Shiites, Alevis and Alawites to defend this city made famous by Harun Al Reshid .  Even the sack and destruction by Hulagu could not keep down for too long this city in a country of the mothers of civilizations. 

A millennia ago the supremacy of the Caliph of Baghdad had been broken by Shite Fatamid Caliph in Cairo, followed by another branch of Sunni Omayyed Emir declaring himself independent in Cordova.  Barring shaky emirates and Sheikhdoms and client states, the Islamic Ummah at the people’s level is uniting behind the city of Baghdad and Iraq.  Even the totally subservient and obedient  president of Egypt Hosny Mubarak said that this war will create a 100 Osama ben Ladens as he would not utter Saddam Hussein, whom he hates. But if Saddam Hussein goes down fighting as it seems likely, then he and Baghdad would become for  Muslims all over the world what Imam Hussein and Kerbala are to the Shiites. 

India has followed a very ambiguous policy, letting down the brave people of Iraq and an old tested secular friend Saddam Hussein.  Even its people a billion strong have remained engrossed in entertainment of world cup in South Africa,  while tens of millions from New Zealand to West coast  of USA, from South Africa to Russia, from all continents and races, have protested and continue to protest against this illegal, unjust and immoral war. It speaks ill of Indians, lack of awareness of civic and human rights of suffering Iraqi people and law of the jungle. Protests in India, mostly by Muslims and leftists have been pitiable. It has done immense harm to Indians perceived sense of fight against injustice.   What, if something like this befell India and the rest of the world behaved as Indians have done?

(K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan in 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during the 1990-91 Gulf war ), Romania and Senegal. He has traveled to  most of the places mentioned in this article . He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic