Global Policy Forum

Turkey and Iraq


By Yuksel Soylemez

Turkish Daily News
June 11, 2001

It is common knowledge and no surprise that Turkish and U.S. policies towards Iraq do not converge. On the nature of sanctions, intelligent or otherwise. The United States takes a negative stance against the $ 350 million dollar border trade, which is basically food for oil, and the difference of views exists for the future scenarios of a united or divided Iraq.

Saddam Factor

Saddam survived Desert Storm and some 10 years on, he is very much alive and in control. He was declared vanquished and finished. Yet in the eyes of his people he is elevated to the status of a national hero, as he stood against a mighty coalition of powers, European and Arab alike, led by the Unites States.

Unintelligent Sanction

Before the intelligent sanctions, the United Nations, inspired by the United States, introduced and implemented sanctions which may now be thought of as unintelligent in hindsight, as they did not produce the desired results.

It is often confessed that big mistakes were made during and after Operation Desert Storm although it was an unqualified military success. Now is the time to reconsider the wrongs and put them right with new openings and fresh policies in order not to repeat the past blunders.

Fact of Life

The United States made a simplistic choice once upon a time by deciding to overthrow Saddam. The proof of the mistaken premise is that Saddam is still alive and kicking a decade later. Saddam was an elusive target. Saddam's Iraq is still a hard issue and there are no easy solutions.

A Hard Case

The United States conducted business with Saddam before the Gulf Crisis so there must be ways to invigorate past relationships, rather then reembarking on a confrontation course however it is disguised. In international politics obviously conciliation and pragmatism is more productive than a win or lose confrontation. Saddam is a hard customer, but given the political will to be discovered and the right policies, even miracles are possible.

Do sanctions ever succeed?

Sanctions rarely do succeed in textbooks, if at all. Heavy-handed policies are generally counterproductive. "Intelligent Sanctions" may be old wine in a new bottle, they were not favoured by China, Russia or France, the 3 permanent members of the Security Council, for their own reasons to begin with. Such a start does not give much hope that they will serve a useful purpose. Turkey is not happy with the "Intelligent Sanctions" either.

Turkey's policy towards Iraq is motivated by common interests intending to reinvigorate once-lucrative business and trade relations and not to hamper them with new sanctions, however intelligent.

Dialogue Not Diatribe

The best advice is to forget diatribe and try dialogue with Saddam. The United States may not approve of Saddam, they may even consider him as an opponent. Yet there must be room for some practical realism, as opposed to utopian idealism. What is the alternative to Saddam today and scenarios for tomorrow? Even in the post-Saddam period, democracy seems an impossible dream. Turkey's worst fears is the partition of Iraq in a post-Saddam era. Today's "de factor" or quasi divisions become a "de jure" possibility.

Vital interests

Turkey shares a long and sensitive border with Iraq. Turkish and Iraqi Kurds have posed problems in the past. An Iraqi Kurdish entity in northern Iraq is not supported by Baghdad. The best interests of Iraqi Kurds lies in their cooperation with Baghdad and Ankara, and not in confrontation with either.

Turkey's best interest corresponds to that of Iraq: The functioning of the twin pipelines and the flow of Iraqi oil from Kerkuk to Yumurtalik in Turkey. Trade, economic ties, investment infrastructure projects, as before, are also key to political stability. More trade not less, let alone to curtail it, defies all kinds of logic.

Turkey, Big Loser

Turkey was a big loser in the Gulf Crisis with an estimated lost revenue of $ 35-40 billion, which was never compensated. What Mexico is to the United States is somewhat similar to what Iraq is to Turkey; vis-a-vis oil imports, border trade, investment opportunities, flow of labour and the rest. Turkey does not and cannot afford to be on the losing side again. As the long and trusted ally and strategic partner of the United States, she deserves to be understood for her vital interests which may be at stake and requires respect for legitimate concerns.

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