The northern Iraq crisis has caught Turkey’s coalition government offbalance, highlighting divisions between the leaders of the two respective parties, Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan of the Welfare Party (Refah) and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Tansu Ciller of the True Path Party (DYP).
Ciller said on 3 September that Turkey had told the US it could proceed with the attack, but should not harm Turkey’s regional interests, or its struggle against terrorism, its main regional concern. She also said Turkey might seek compensation for the losses in trade revenue with Iraq.
However, leading figures in Refah demanded an immediate end to the use of Turkish bases by forces involved in Operation Provide comfort (OPC), the allied mission to protect northern Iraq’s Kurdish population from Baghdad since 1991 Fundamentally, Turkey has always opposed the formation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, and upholds Iraq’s territorial integrity as essential for long-term regional stability.
Ankara too has also always been conderned about the power vacuum in northern Iraq permitting the estabishment of bases and infiltration across the border of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The late presidentTurgut Ozal sought to engineer a rapprochement between the two Iraqi Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), whose soliciting of Baghdad’s aid led to the incursion by Iraqi troops and the US’ missile retaliation.
However, after Ozal’s death in 1993, Ankara distanced itself from both parties, and encouraged both to resume relations with Baghdad. But at the same time ,Ankara leaned more towards the KDP believing the PUK supported the PKK.
Weapons were supplied to the KDP following major cross-border operations against the PKK, ostensibly to permit the Iraqis to oust the Turkish insurgents and police the border. Subsequently, however, the weapons were turned on the PUK instead.
Governments in power in Ankara, including Ciller’s up until the end-June formation of the latest coalition, broadly toed the UN line on sanctions against baghdad, and supported regular extensions of the OPC’s mandate.
But although Erbakan apparently gave way in late July under US and Turkish military pressure to another five-month extension of the OPC, he stressed this was purely temporary to get over the US elections. In its previous opposition, Refah has always argued that the OPC provides an umbrella for the northern Iraqi power vacuum, aiding the PKK.
Erbakan also clearly believes Turkey can best solve its regional problems in concert with its neighbours, and not in subservience to Western objectives. His first official visit abroad was to Tehran in mid-August, where he proposed a subsequently shelved summit between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria to discuss alternatives for the OPC.
At the same time, prior to the current crisis, the coalition was stepping up efforts to restore the lucrative trading links with Baghdad that existed before the Gulf war. The coalition also recently sought a lifting of UN sanctions similar to that enjoyed by Jordan. However, the UN Security Council on 28 August deferred a request by Ankara to purchase Iraqi oil until implementation of the UN offer to Baghdad of limited oil sales for humanitarian aid subsequently suspended after the seizure of the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, Iraq’s twin-oil pipelines crossing northern Iraq and Turkey’s southeast, if they had been re-opened in midSeptember, would have transported about 450,000 barrels a day (b/d) of the total permitted 780,000 b/d under the UN offer of sales valued at US $2,000 million over six months. Ankara also hoped Baghdad would purchase a considerable amount of the humanitarian aid, including food and medicines, from Turkey.