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Turkish Fears of a Kurdish State Discussed in Washington - 2003-03-21


The United States Thursday restated its long-standing warning to Turkey not to send Turkish troops into northern Iraq. Turkey is worried that the war across its southeastern border could lead to the emergence of the Kurdish state it has long opposed.

Middle East Institute visiting scholar Meliha Altunisik says the Turkish military is particularly focused on developments in Kirkuk, the Iraqi oil producing center some 300 kilometers south of the Turkish border.

Professor Altunisik, who is Turkish, spoke at Washington's National Press Club Thursday. "Turkey's interest in Kirkuk is always related to prevent Iraqi Kurds from taking over Kirkuk because in their belief, this is the latest step, this would be the latest step towards statehood because what [the Iraqi Kurds] are currently lacking is the financial aspect of state formation. And the fear is that by acquiring Kirkuk they would complete that," he said.

Kirkuk is Iraqi's second richest oil producing center. Turkey has a large and restive Kurdish minority and fears for its own territorial integrity if a Kurdish state is proclaimed.

Both Professor Altunisik and Abdullah Akyuz of the Turkish Industrialist Association say Washington and Ankara mishandled the negotiations leading up to the March 1 vote in which the Turkish parliament narrowly rejected the U.S. request to use Turkey as a base for an attack on Iraq. Mr. Akyuz says Turkey not only lost $6 billion in U.S. aid, but also lost an opportunity for greater influence in a post-Saddam Iraq. Mr. Akyuz said the Americans miscalulated in taking Turkey's support for granted. "[Washington] assumed that Turkey would side with the U.S. simply because it has always been there as demonstrated in Korea in the early 50s, as well as in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, most recently," he said.

Both Turkish analysts say before the March 1 vote the new government in Ankara was particularly sensitive to public opinion surveys showing that 80 to 90 percent of all Turks oppose a war with Iraq.

Turkey Thursday opened its airspace to U.S. warplanes attacking Iraq, but the White House says the aid package for Turkey is no longer being offered.

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