Monday, October 20, 2003

Turkish Chief of Staff on Turkey in Iraq

politics > turkey > military liscense
In an interview in the Athens daily "Eleftherotypia", among much talk about Greco-Turkish relations and Cyprus, Turkish Chief of staff Hilmi Özkök had the following to say about Turkish involvement in Iraq (translation is vague where original transcript was vague):

Q: Many in Turkey seem mistrustful of US policy towards your country and the region in general and, in a sense, express their fear. Are American plans actually feared?

A: I wouldn’t call it exactly fear. Although it isn’t just the Turkish people, but the whole world that’s wondering what the US is up to. It’s strange because the US has not stated its aims. They talk about Weapons of Mass Destruction, the democratization of Iraq or bringing down the dictator, Saddam. They don’t have any concrete objective aim that would explain the American operations. And it’s natural for people to ask themselves if all this is the real target or if America has something else in mind. We should, I think, rather put faith in the Authorities when they say they want to oust Saddam and bring back security to the region and its people, while stopping the terrorists from using Iraqi territory to threaten other countries such as Turkey. As you know the PKK [Main Kurdish Armed resistance group in Turkey] is in the North and is continuing its war. The coalition forces have begun operations to stabilize Iraq since May 1st, and many countries are contributing troops to the stabilization force.

Q: It has been said that the parliament’s authorization to the government to send troops to Iraq means that Turkey wishes to defend itself from Baghdad rather than Habour [the Turkish-Iraqi border].

A: Everyone is free to believe in various weird things. It isn’t feasible, militarily speaking, to defend Turkey from Baghdad. Someone may have told you this, but I disagree with this opinion.

Q: Could this opinion have to do with the fears that are being expressed in Ankara?

A: Of course there are two big problems that are not connected to each other. One is the PKK, which is a terrorist organization. It is included in the relevant US list, and the US are claiming that they are fighting against international terrorism, therefore they are fighting against the PKK as well. That’s one issue we want to settle with the Americans. The other is Turkey’s stability and security, which depends on the security of its neighboring countries. I do not only mean Iraq, but the whole region. Any instability in Iraq will impact on Turkey’s stability. Furthermore we have friendly and brotherly relations with the Arab world and we know they are suffering because of the war and the long dictatorship, and that they need help. We are willing to help them achieve stability in Iraq. And of course our allies, the US and the UK, need help which other countries are offering them as well. Turkey is not taking part in the coalition to defend itself from Habour. This opinion [of defense from Baghdad] is not completely a fantasy, but no such issue has been discussed.

Q: If Turkey does indeed send troops to Iraq, wouldn’t it be a dangerous decision given the instability that has inflicted the whole of the Middle East due to the US plans to reshape the area?

A: Of course there is uncertainty and risk. We do not know what the consequences of this instability will be. But we certainly are basing our decisions on military and political logic. The politicians have examined the situation, they have drawn their opinions and have reached certain conclusions. Instability and the current circumstances in Iraq have undoubtedly repercussions on Turkey. There are many terrorist organizations, there is no rule of law and there are many ethnic and religious groups that could possibly clash. Some of them are near the border and have historical ties to us. If a group asks for Turkey’s help, we won’t refuse as we did in the past with clashes between Kurdish groups [Barzani’s and Talabani’s]. A stable Iraq is what is wanted and we should play our role in this direction.

Q: After the parliament’s decision to authorize the government to send troops to Iraq, is this “confidence crisis” between Turkey and the US over?

A: I think you’re referring to my statement after the incident with the arrest of Turkish soldiers in Suleymaniye by local forces. I had characterized it as a “failure of confidence” not a “lack of confidence”. A lot of things have changed since then. I have talked about it with my American counterparts and the politicians have discussed this with their counterparts and now it is just a shadow on Turko-American military cooperation. This shouldn’t prevent us from creating friendly relations anew. The lesson has been learned but nothing similar should ever again happen. This is a wound that will certainly heal with time. We’re not going to Iraq just for the sake of the US. There are many other reasons.

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