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Turkey, Shunned by U.S., EU, Seeks Support of Syria, Iran


By Richard Walker

As Turkey’s quest to join the EU evaporates, it is gradually turning its back on the West in favor of strategic partnerships with Iran and Syria who have voiced support for a Turkish invasion of Iraq. Such an invasion could come at any time despite U.S. pleas for restraint when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Washington.

He was warned by Bush administration figures that an invasion of Iraq could lead to a wider conflict that would benefit America’s enemies in the region. At the same time, his top general, Yasar Buyukanit, told journalists in the Turkish capital, Ankara, that Turkey was a great state and did not need anyone’s approval to invade Iraq.

Buyukanit said the U.S. had only been consulted about Turkish plans in order to avoid the possibility of “friendly fire” between U.S. and Turkish soldiers once an invasion began. As far as he was concerned, invasion plans were merely awaiting approval.

Iran has cleverly stoked Turkish anger toward the U.S. by persuading the Turks that America has not done enough to stop Kurdish guerrillas from the PKK—Kurdistan Workers Party—attacking Turkey from mountains bordering northern Iraq and Turkey. Iran shares Turkey’s disdain for the PKK, which has also carried out attacks inside Iran.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has admitted his government has held meetings with the Turks to discuss a bilateral approach to combating the PKK threat.

In a call to the Turkish prime minister, he said Iran fully understood Turkey’s concern with the continued threat from inside Iraq. He complained that the United States was playing a double game by covertly supporting Kurdish insurgents to create disharmony among states in the

In a move that further angered D.C., Iran brought Syria into the mix by encouraging it to reach out to Turkey over the PKK issue. Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Mouallem, lost no time issuing a statement that his country backed Turkey’s right to strike back at PKK terrorists who threatened not only Turkey and Iran but Syria.

For some time, these three countries have kept a close eye on other events in Iraq, especially U.S. moves to incorporate the oil rich city of Kirkuk into the Kurdistan Regional Government, which is closely tied to the U.S.

Washington wants the Kurds to control the massive oil reserves in northern Iraq, fearing they could fall under the jurisdiction of a future Iraqi Shiite government with close links to Iran.

The Bush administration will go to any lengths to achieve this goal even if it means dividing Iraq into three regions—Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and the Shiites mostly in the south. While Iran is concerned about Kirkuk being transferred to the Kurds, so too, is Turkey, which has warned the U.S. that Kirkuk would provide Kurds with the means to create a powerful state on its borders with the power to reach out to millions of disgruntled Kurds residing in Turkey and Iran.

All in all, Iran has cleverly courted Turkey by identifying Turkish concerns with issues that conflict with U.S. and Western policy in the region. But it is not just on that level that the two nations have grown closer together. They have become serious trading partners with trade levels between the two now above the $7 billion mark and expected to reach over $15 billion in 2008/2009.

Turkey has also been negotiating to have natural gas piped from Iran into Europe, making European countries less dependent on Russian supplies from the Caspian. That would help make Turkey a bigger regional player.

Perhaps, it was only a matter of time before Turkey, facing EU rejection and a drift from decades of secular rule, would turn its eyes east to the Muslim world in an effort to become a big player. An indication this was happening was the developing Iran relationship, which had previously been one of enmity going back to the days of the Ottoman Empire when Turks limited the spread of what was then the Persian (now Iran) rule of the Safavi dynasty.

A sure sign the U.S. is worried about Turkey’s alliance with Iran was the November 10 visit to Ankara by the Saudi King Abdullah Aziz, a close ally of the United States. His visit to Turkey last year was the first by a Saudi rule for more than four decades. The irony of his two visits was not lost on historians who pointed out that Saudi Arabia had been at the apex of the Arab revolt that led to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, yet now a Saudi king was coming to plead for Turkey’s help in moderating Iranian influence, which the Saudis, like the U.S. and Israel, regarded as pernicious.

Even though his visit appealed to Washington, it nevertheless cemented Turkey’s assertion it was a major player in the Islamic world. It also demonstrated that the Saudis supported Turkey’s drift from secularism to better relations with Islam. Abdullah cautiously voiced his fears that Turkey could unwittingly become a means for Iran to expand Shiite influence inside Iraq at the expense of the Sunnis, whom the Saudis support. But he was careful not to be seen to be dictating to Turkey.

In order to conceal the fact Iran was the primary reason for his state visit, he advocated changes in rules governing the numbers of Turkish pilgrims permitted to attend the yearly religious hajj in Mecca, which is controlled by Saudi Arabia. Last year, almost half a million Turkish Muslims applied to make the pilgrimage, but the Saudis officially insisted on allowing only 70,000. With applications for next year’s hajj expected to be close to one million, the Saudi ruler promised to negotiate a higher quota.

But the introduction of a religious issue did not obscure the fact that King Abdullah’s trip was made at the behest of the U.S. and Israel, who have been leading an international clamor for the total isolation of Iran. In a sign that Turkey was not prepared to take that path, the country’s president, Abdul Gul, a devout Muslim, said Turkey’s greatest asset was that it could serve as a bridge between Europe and the East. In other words, it did not serve one master. He added that his nation was an important part of the Muslim world and “the revered traditions of the East.”

That was exactly what Iran and Syria wanted to hear. The Saudis must now sit back and watch U.S. policy vis-a-vis Kurdish northern Iraq, worried that if it conflicts with Turkish interests, the Turks will draw even closer to Iran and Syria.

Richard Walker is the nom de plume of a former mainstream news producer who now writes for AFP so he can expose the kinds of subjects that he was forbidden to cover in the controlled press.

(Issue #48, November 26, 2007)

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