Iraq War Straining U.S.-Turkey Ties
the image of the United States has sunk to an all-time low in the
Arab world, the Iraq war has also had a devastating impact on U.S.
ties to another predominantly Muslim power and one of Washington's
closest and most strategically situated Cold War allies, Turkey,
say experts just returned from the region.
between Turkey and Israel countries that have long considered
themselves strategic allies against hostile Arab states have
also become deeply strained as a result of recent events, according
to former U.S. ambassador in Ankara, Mark Parris, who also served
for several years as the number two in the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.
been lots of news, and most of it is not good," he told a meeting
Tuesday at the Nixon Center
here, noting that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has
repeatedly referred to Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank
as "state terrorism," an assessment that is now shared
by 82 percent of the Turkish population, according to a recent poll
cited by Zeyno Baran, director of the international security and
energy program at the center.
the shifts in Turkish public opinion toward both the United States
and Israel are wreaking havoc with political relationships, they
have not yet seriously damaged the core strategic relationships,
in part because the military in Turkey retains considerable autonomy,
but it very easily could over time, according to the analysts. Another
survey released in the past week showed that 75 percent of Turks
wanted "no" relationship with Israel.
from the Iraq war, which has spurred distrust in Ankara about U.S.
aims in the region, the Bush administration appears to have misjudged
the impact of the sweeping electoral victory that brought the Islamist
Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power in 2002.
here didn't fully appreciate how big a difference the AKP is in
worldview," according to Parris, who stressed that Erdogan
has consulted more closely with Arab governments than previous Turkish
leaders and, in a major coup, Turkey last month saw its candidate,
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, elected secretary general of the Organization
of Islamic Conference (OIC), the global caucus of predominantly
other major factor in the growing alienation is rising expectation
that Turkey will be given a certain date for joining the European
Union (EU) at the body's meeting in December, according to Geoffrey
Kemp, a top Middle East aide under former President Ronald Reagan
(198189) who directs the Nixon Center's regional strategic
part of Europe is the overriding strategic objective," said
Parris, who served in Ankara in the mid-1990s. On issues regarding
the Middle East, Israel and Iran, the views of both religious and
secular Turks "are now much closer to mainstream European perceptions
than to mainstream American positions," he added.
growing estrangement between Turkey, on the one hand, and the United
States and Israel, on the other, is particularly ironic because
Washington's biggest boosters of war in Iraq mainly neoconservatives
who favor Israel's governing Likud Party, such as former Defense
Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and Undersecretary of Defense
for Policy Douglas Feith, who played a key role in promoting trilateral
ties had seen the ouster of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and
the installation of a pro-U.S. government there as key to decisively
transforming the balance of power in the region in favor of an alliance
of secular, relatively democratic states, specifically Israel, Turkey
and a new Iraq, backed up by Washington.
hasn't turned out to be that way," noted Kemp, who said that,
if anything, the war has created unprecedented instability and uncertainty
throughout the region in ways that could well bring about a major
realignment in the area, but not of the kind desired by the neoconservatives.
greatest concern is what is taking place in Iraq itself, particularly
in the northern Kurdish region, where 5,000 members of the Kurdistan
Workers' Party (PKK), a Turkish insurgency that just ended a five-year
unilateral ceasefire, have been based. Despite repeated urgings
by Ankara, U.S. occupation forces have not moved to disarm the guerrillas,
nor have they asked Iraqi Kurds to do so, despite the fact that
the PKK is listed by the State Department as a "terrorist"
you make a discrimination among terrorist groups," according
to one Turkish diplomat who attended the Nixon Center meeting, "then
the war against terrorism will never work."
Turks told the U.S.: 'Either do something about it or let us do
something about it,'" said Baran, who added that Washington
has adamantly opposed any direct Turkish presence in Iraq, in contrast
to its attitude during the 1990s when Ankara maintained a virtual
continuous presence in the northern part of the country, close to
is also concerned that Iraqi Kurds may break away from Baghdad,
a step that would almost certainly spur direct military intervention
by both Turkey and Iran, who worry that an independent Kurdistan
would provoke Kurdish uprisings within their borders. Those fears
have resulted in Turkey drawing closer to both Syria, which also
has a significant Kurdish population, and Iran, where Erdogan himself
is being hosted for a two-day summit this week.
is a real concern that, regardless of who wins the [U.S.] elections
[in November], the United States is not up to fixing Iraq,"
Baran noted, adding there is also "fear that the U.S. is going
to get involved militarily in Syria and Iran" in ways that
could further destabilize the region.
concerns, as well as the sour taste left by U.S. pressure on the
Turkish parliament to approve the use of its territory to launch
an invasion of Iraq from the north, the occupation and the widespread
publicity about abuses by U.S. soldiers against Iraqi detainees,
according to Baran, "has led Turkish people to feel closer
to their Arab neighbors. Until a few years ago, Turks would feel
much closer to Israel.
Israel's actions particularly the similarity of the television
images of its occupation of Palestinian territories and the U.S.
Occupation in Iraq have also resulted in a dramatic rise
in anti-Israeli sentiment, she added.
other ominous developments for the relationship, according to Parris,
in the past few months Israeli arms sales to Turkey have been canceled.
two weeks ago, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Ohmert, who said
he was bearing a special message from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
for Erdogan, was snubbed by the Turkish prime minister. Although
Ohmert was warmly received by other senior officials, Parris called
it "devastating [that] he couldn't talk to the top guy,"
given the long-standing close relationship.
intentions in Iraq have become a subject of growing suspicion, particularly
since the publication in the The
New Yorker magazine in June of a much-disputed story by
investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that asserted Israel had
infiltrated scores of "intelligence and military operatives"
into Iraqi Kurdistan to train and supply the 50,000-strong peshmerga
militias and conduct operations against targets in Kurdish areas
of Syria and Iran.
story, which was leaked in advance to a Turkish opposition newspaper,
fueled concerns about Kurdish secession and the possibility of a
Kurdish seizure of Iraq's major oil-production center of Kirkuk,
where ethnic tensions between Turkmens, Kurds and Arabs have already
resulted in fatal clashes.
the Kurds and Israelis strongly denied Hersh's account, and some
independent experts have cast doubt on it, "there is still
huge distrust," said Baran. "They simply don't believe
and Turkish militaries are still carrying out joint exercises and
U.S. forces are still using Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey
to help supply the occupation in Iraq, but whether the fundamental
strategic interests that the three countries share can long endure
in the face of growing Turkish anger and distrust remain uncertain.
will be difficult to reverse current negative trends, according
to Baran, so long as Sharon and Bush remain in power, although even
their successors may find it difficult to improve ties given Turkey's
strategic reorientation toward Europe and the degree of alienation
that will need to be overcome.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service