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Monday, February 9, 1998 Published at 15:01 GMT



World: Analysis

Turkey acts to protect its interests in Iraq
image: [ Turkey hopes to prevent a repetition of 1991, when Kurdish Iraqi refugees fled towards its border ]
Turkey hopes to prevent a repetition of 1991, when Kurdish Iraqi refugees fled towards its border

By Middle East analyst Kate Clark

Turkey seems to have accepted that the United States will take military action against Iraq. Creating a buffer zone - by sending Turkish troops into northern Iraq - is one way of minimising the possible impact on Turkey.

In 1991 after the Gulf War, hundreds of thousands of mainly Kurdish Iraqis streamed towards the border.


[ image:  ]
Most were prevented from crossing, but the exodus still created a political crisis next to Turkey's own sensitive Kurdish areas. Turkish troops regularly cross into Iraq to attack bases belonging to the Kurdish separatist group, the PKK.

Last year, there were two major incursions with thousands of soldiers lasting several months. Militarily, there's nothing to prevent the Turkish army setting up what the local press says will be a 15 kilometre buffer zone.

Turkey has little interest in military action against Iraq


[ image: A Turkish soldier on the lookout for Kurdish rebels]
A Turkish soldier on the lookout for Kurdish rebels
Ankara fears that any destabilisation of its southern neighbour could usher in a breakaway Kurdish state - with consequences to its own discontented Kurds.

And as long as United Nations sanctions are in place, Ankara is losing billions of dollars worth of income from cross-border trade.

There's been much discussion in Ankara over whether the US will seek permission to use the Incerlik air base in northern Turkey.

It played a major role in the 1991 Gulf War and has been used since then by planes patrolling the United Nations no-fly zone over Northern Iraq.

One of the parties in Turkey's ruling coalition has already said it doesn't want the base to be used in any fresh confrontation with Iraq, and the government, as a whole, is reluctant for raids to be launched from its territory.

However, it seems possible that Ankara may allow the base to play a supporting role - which would keep its powerful American ally happy.






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