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Saturday, 30 March, 2002, 14:46 GMT
Turks fear fallout from US-Iraq war
Turkish soldiers
Turkey would want to keep its troops out of a US-Iraq war
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By Russell Working in Ankara

At his shop in the ancient citadel of this busy capital city, Satilimish Sutchuoglu and three fellow carpet sellers gather to drink tea and trade forecasts of economic doom.

Tourists, who provide most of his bread and butter, have been scarce since 11 September in this secularly governed Muslim country which straddles Europe and Asia.

I would hate to see a war because I know we won't have any business and I'm already in debt from replacing my kitchen cupboards

Merchant Satilimish Sutchuoglu

If the talk from Washington is to be believed, things could get worse just as the tourist season is about to start.

US Vice President Dick Cheney visited this Nato nation in March to discuss the possibility of forcing Saddam Hussein from power in neighbouring Iraq.

A war would be a blow to an already tottering Turkish economy.

"I haven't lost my hope yet for the tourist industry, but if a war happens, then we'll run into a disaster," Mr Sutchuoglu said.

"I would hate to see a war because I know we won't have any business and I'm already in debt from replacing my kitchen cupboards."

Widespread opposition

Turkey has been a loyal supporter of the United States from the Cold War to the Desert Storm campaign in the Persian Gulf, and it has allowed US jets to patrol no-fly zones in Iraq from Turkish air bases.

But talk of a new campaign to unseat Saddam Hussein has drawn denunciations across the political spectrum.

The country has lost billions of dollars in trade with Iraq and slipped into an economic crisis since the Gulf War.

Ankara street vendor Veysel Genchauci serves a customer
Ankara street vendor Veysel Genchauci hopes war can be avoided
But before the US writes off the use of Turkish air bases for an assault on Baghdad, it might give some thought to winning over an old ally.

There is no love lost between Turkey and Iraq, and Ankara shares America's worries about Saddam's reported attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Even as Ankara insists that no attack is yet warranted, officials hint they might grudgingly come around if America addresses their economic and political concerns.

Sinan Aygun, president of the Ankara Chamber of Commerce, said: "Our export revenue from Iraq was $5bn annually [before the Gulf War].

"Multiply that by 12 years, and we have lost about $60bn."

Western orientation

Even in hard times, Turkey is a lively, progressive country compared to the lawless former Soviet states to the north or to its impoverished and repressive Middle Eastern neighbours to the south and east.

Despite a chequered human rights record, it has an elected government and is proud of grafting a secular constitution on to a country whose population is 97% Muslim.

Yet Turks fear that despite their Western orientation, their concerns will not be taken seriously if a new war breaks out.

In the last war, Turkey lost not only its cross-border business, but its overland trade route through Iraq to the Persian Gulf states.

Turkish soldiers
Turkey does not want an independent Kurdish state
The country, which imports most of its oil, was cut off from cheap Iraqi supplies, contributing to its economic downfall.

Only recently did Iraq restart shipping oil to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

Privately, many Turkish officials admit they would be better off without Saddam in power - as long as the war was short and clean.

Ilnur Chevik, editor of the Turkish Daily News, said: "We have this problem.

"As long as Saddam is there, the Americans won't lift sanctions. As long as the Americans won't lift sanctions, we can't have a proper business relationship with Iraq.

"Is the continuation of the status quo in the interests of Turkey or not? It isn't. But what to do about it?"

Rebel attacks

If the US attacks, Turkey would try to keep its soldiers out of the fight, officials say, though that might be difficult if Iraq moves its troops north toward Turkey.

Instead, the nation would lend support by allowing America to launch air and land attacks from its soil.

In return, Turkey would demand that a post-Saddam Iraq remain as a single state, said Seyfi Tashan, director of the Turkish Foreign Policy Institute at Bilkent University.

If Turkey is going to contribute to a war against Iraq, it must be assured that an independent Kurdish state will not be created

Seyfi Tashan, director of the Turkish Foreign Policy Institute

The fear is that it could split into three parts as the nation is divided between the Shia south, the Sunni centre and the Kurdish north.

The creation of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq turned it into a sanctuary for Turkish Kurds who were seeking to break away from the Iraqi state.

Rebels often resorted to attacks and Turkey responded with a brutal scorched-earth campaign against its own Kurds.

It fears that the establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq could embolden the Turkish Kurdish minority.

Mr Tashan said: "If Turkey is going to contribute to a war against Iraq, it must be assured that an independent Kurdish state will not be created."

Ankara also wants the US to put its weight behind a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, rather than stirring up another war in the region.

See also:

14 Feb 02 | Americas
US considers ousting Saddam
13 Feb 02 | Americas
Analysis: US to get tough on Iraq
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Turkey
18 Jan 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds
21 Mar 02 | Europe
Kurds clash with Turkish police
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