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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 11:18 GMT
Turkey worries at US' Iraq plans
President Bush
Hawks want Mr Bush to attack Iraq next
Turkey has expressed growing concern over recent weeks at the possibility of US military action against Iraq, cautioning Washington against such a move and expressing hope that the Iraq problem can be resolved without war.

The concern is reflected in the Turkish press, with a growing number of commentators speculating on the likely effect of military action on the country and the region.

There is no need for an untimely panic... The United States will try to achieve its goal without hitting Iraq

Istanbul daily Milliyet
The Ankara government is fearful of the fallout on its economic recovery programme of any attack.

It is also worried that instability in its southern neighbour could revive separatist sentiment among its restive Kurdish minority.

"The US is thousands of miles away. An operation in Iraq will not affect the American people directly, but it will effect us directly... It will deal a very heavy blow on the Turkish economy," Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told Turkish NTV in a recent interview.

He said Turkey perceived no major military threat from Iraq to the region, and a military operation was neither necessary nor appropriate.

Worries that the US may strike Iraq have tempered Ankara's optimism regarding a $16bn loan it signed with the IMF in early February.

Prime Minister Ecevit
Mr Ecevit said military action was not needed
The loan is aimed at supporting Turkey's economic recovery programme over the next three years.

Turkish Economy Minister Kemal Dervis has felt the need to give assurances that the economic programme has a "safety margin" against possible outside factors, including conflict in the region.

But he was quick to downplay the risk of a US military operation against Iraq any time soon.

War drums

The centrist Istanbul daily Milliyet warned recently that the Turkish government's "panic" about the possibility of the US extending its war against terrorism to include Iraq had led to a fall in share prices, and risked damaging the tourism industry.

Although the US administration has not yet made a final decision about whether it should exercise the military option against Baghdad, Turkey had damaged its own economy ahead of the tourist season by "beating war drums", a commentary in the paper said.

Turkey must begin to think about how it can come out of it with minimum damage

Istanbul paper Ortadogu
"There is no need for an untimely panic. [US Vice-President] Cheney will visit the Middle East in order to sound out the Arabs on the US administration's plans. The United States will try to achieve its goal without hitting Iraq," it said.

A writer for the centre-right daily Hurriyet said the main issue was the extent of damage that clashes in the region might cause the economy.

"The main issue is how long will the debates on 'whether or not a military operation will be mounted against Iraq' will last, because the unfavourable impact of these debates on the Turkish economy will become stronger as the uncertainties regarding the issue last longer."

Istanbul paper Ortadogu stressed the need for a well-calculated policy based on the assumption that there would indeed be war.

"Regardless of the outcome of the US-Iraqi confrontation, Turkey must begin to think about how it can come out of it with minimum damage," the paper said.

Washington knocks

Turkey is caught between a rock and a hard place

Turkish Daily News
A Turkish Daily News commentary speculated that Ankara would have little choice but to play along if its superpower ally was bent, as it seemed to be, on a regime change in Baghdad.

"By using the 'strategic location' card... [Turkey] has obtained just recently billions of dollars of support from the International Monetary Fund, that is, from the Bush Administration, in the aftermath of 11 September."

And now "Washington is knocking on Ankara's door, telling it that the repayment day has arrived, and that, due to its strategic location, Turkey must help in the intervention in Iraq. Turkey is caught between a rock and a hard place."

The writer had no doubt that Ankara's answer to such a call would have to be "yes".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

14 Feb 02 | Americas
US considers ousting Saddam
13 Feb 02 | Americas
Analysis: US to get tough on Iraq
17 Jan 02 | Americas
Bush warns Iraq over arms
22 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iraq fears US military attacks
08 Nov 01 | Middle East
Powell says Iraq may be next target
28 Oct 01 | Middle East
Rumsfeld: Iraq may be target
04 Jan 01 | Middle East
Saddam Hussein profile
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