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As Turkey Mulls Over Its Response

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President Bush's response to the Turkish Parliament's quasi-declaration of war against the 3,000+ outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels in northern Iraq was muted because he needs Turkey as much as the other way round. However, further Turkish forays into Iraq to attack PKK camps would immensely complicate the war in Iraq, not to mention contribute to destabilizing the entire region. Only one thing might give Turkey pause.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is as friendly a Prime Minister as the United States could hope for in a 99 percent Islamic country in the fifth year of an Iraq war that has helped PKK separatists to build up their numbers in the north and to attack and kill many Turks near the border.

Back on March 20, 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq, Erdogan asked the Turkish Parliament to allow U.S. troops to drive through to Iraq. Parliament said no. A State Department official said this vote was a "low point" for U.S.-Turkish relations, although Turkey has allowed the United States to move an enormous volume of supplies via Incirlik Air Base. But for many Turks, the low point was four months later when U.S. forces -- from Turkey's perspective -- dissed Turkish soldiers and civilians serving in Iraq. These events were the basis for a Turkish TV series and then a hugely popular (in Turkey) anti-American movie, Valley of the Wolves Iraq. The sentiments stirred up by this movie seem now to be playing themselves out in Turkish politics.

Relations were looking better last year when a U.S.-Turkish partnership was mapped out based on a shared vision and dialog. But the over-stretched U.S. military and the Kurdish administration in oil-rich northern Iraq seems to have been unable to control the small number of PKK separatists. How can they control Turkey itself, which has a half-million troops, the second-largest army in NATO and the largest army in Europe? No wonder a barrel of crude oil topped out at nearly $90 today.

What might restrain Turkey is its ongoing need for full access to American and, even more, EU markets. Turkey would dearly love to become a full member of the EU, and many in the EU would like to see Turkey join. Turkey's textiles and apparel industry, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of Turkey's exports, is being squeezed by low-cost competition from the rest of Asia and by concerns of western, especially European, buyers about labor conditions in Turkish factories. The Turkish government has contributed to the problem by raising taxes on employment to levels well above its neighbors, where wages may be as low as one-fifth of prevailing Turkish wages.


So the best hope for an effective U.S. voice might be to join it with that of the EU, which has warned Turkey against violating Iraq's territorial integrity. But the grave danger is that in the frayed international environment of 2007 Turkey will sooner or later respond to its very real domestic pressures and defy western wishes on the bet that they can continue to get away with going it alone.