Updated Friday 21 February:
Turkey Comes Round at Eleventh Hour
After keeping everyone on tenterhooks until the very last minute, the Turkish government caved in on Friday, February 21. The Turks undoubtedly employed bazaar tactics to raise the American economic aid offer from the $6 b grant plus $20 b in loans for the use of their bases as launching pads to invade Iraq. But what decided the issue in Ankara was the realization that President George W. Bush was resolved to go ahead with the offensive against Iraq with or without Turkey. The Gul government was reluctant to be left out of fateful events in its next door neighbor.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources reported Thursday:
Being convinced that the US operation in Iraq is as good as begun could persuade the Turks to come aboard the American war wagon after all and overcome Kurdish resistance to the entry of Turkish forces into northern Iraq. As a result, the northern front which was close to collapse earlier this week may be reconstituted at the eleventh hour with the positive announcement due from the Turkish prime minister Friday, February 21.
There are signs on the ground that the crisis between Washington and Ankara may have been more verbal than real. Even before prime minister Turkish prime minister Abdullah Gul announced at noon on Friday, February 21 that an understanding had been reached with Washington for opening Turkish bases to US troops, our sources reported that US troop transports, including those of the 3rd Division, had begun landing in Turkish airfields. Between 2000 and 2500 American troops had reached Turkish bases with light vehicles and armored carriers – though no tanks or self-propelled heavy artillery were being discharged. They were still on the decks of freighters cruising at sea and awaiting permission to enter Iskenderun port. That permission is now expected momentarily.
End of update
The muddle and uncertainty that have in the last three days confused perceptions surrounding the Iraq War in European and Middle East capitals are making way for some clarity. The pendulum can now be clearly seen to be veering towards “on” rather than “off”. It is also possible to discern which reports swirling around the airwaves were designed to mislead.
debkafile‘s military sources in Washington now maintain that, despite reports to the contrary, President George W. Bush has finally resolved to launch military action against Iraq on schedule. Here are some examples of reports that sowed uncertainty:
1. Because of logistical difficulties, the Americans have not yet attained the optimum level of troop strength for going to war at their jumping off bases. Our sources maintain that the strength present equals the assigned figure.
2. Turkey’s refusal to allow US troops bound for northern Iraq to cross its territory will delay the offensive. debkafile‘s Washington sources reveal that Washington presented Ankara with a 48-hour ultimatum to agree to terms for its participation in the conflict or count itself out, in which case the Americans will send their army into northern Iraq by another route. The US Treasury will also save itself a large sum in aid.
In any case, since the leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan are part of the US-led coalition, the US war command will only need enough troops to capture the northern Iraqi oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk and surrounding oil fields – not the entire region. Those American columns can enter Iraq by way of Jordan.
3. As for the urgency of the US-UK second Security Council resolution, its only importance for the US president is as a means of drawing some of the sting from the anti-war backlash preying on such war allies as Tony Blair. Privately, Bush has washed his hands of the world body. When the time comes, he intends to settle scores with the UN as well as with Germany, France and Russia for behavior which he sees as leaving America in the lurch.
4. The negotiations for the formation of Israel’s next government led by Ariel Sharon are now mostly a charade. The Bush administration has taken a hand in the process to make sure Sharon ends up with a broad and stable coalition. That Labor leader Amram Mitzna, notwithstanding his vow not to serve in any government led by Sharon, has entered into negotiations to join the government the prime minister is forming is the result of having his arm twisted from Washington through Labor’s friends and supporters in the United States. Labor is being presented with guidelines agreed between the US President and Sharon as a fait accompli. Its chairman was also informed that a Likud-Labor partnership is a prerequisite for the US to grant Israel an economic aid package of $12 billion – $4 in military assistance and $8 b in loan guarantees for three years. This aid injection is vital for rescuing the Israeli economy from its dire straits. If the package falls through because of MItzna’s refusal to join the Sharon government, he will be blamed for the country’s economic collapse.
Quite soon, therefore, Labor can be expected to help Sharon form a centrist government capable of steering the country through the twin crises of war and economic emergency.