Turkey Is Both Feet Back in Northern Front

Since Wednesday night, March 5, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, US supplies management teams of the US 1st Cavalry Division have been posted at four Turkish sea harbors, taking delivery of the equipment of the US 4th Infantry Division discharged after a long wait at sea.
For weeks, twenty-six US cargo ships carrying the division’s tanks and heavy equipment have been sitting over the horizon off Turkish shores. Now, they are unloading their cargoes directly onto railcars heading out to the Turkish-Iraqi frontier. To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE.
Tens of thousands of 4th division troops are still aboard the freighters, except for the units flown in by air. According to a US war command estimate, those troops will need three days to reach the Iraqi frontier from the moment the signal to land is flashed by the Ankara government.
That signal may come soon in the light of a certain impending turnabout in Turkish politics, to which the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, referred obliquely on Wednesday, March 5 when he said that US forces would open a second front against Iraq from the north, with or without Turkey’s help.
This is what he meant.
Recep Tayyup Erdogan was banned from running for election last November although his Justice and Development Party won a landslide victory. That ban has expired and he will run for a seat in parliament on behalf of the southeastern Siirt Province in the provincial election Sunday, March 9. From there, he will jump straight into the prime minister’s seat as head of the ruling party.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Ankara sources quote prime minister Abdullah Gul as informing confidants that he has agreed to step down and serve as deputy prime minister and foreign minister in the Erdogan government. It is all settled between them.
We are also informed that Erdogan has meanwhile informed Washington that, a week after taking office, he will have completed the process for gaining a parliamentary majority to allow US troops to use Turkey as a launch pad into Iraq, overruling the March 1 defeat of that motion. This would mean that the second front, which was thrown in doubt by the first vote, can go into operation around mid-March or shortly after.
This word from Ankara was pivotal to President George W. Bush’s decision to set a date for the US offensive in the second half of March. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington and Ankara, the United States received a promise from Erdogan and the Turkish chief of staff, General Hilmi Ozkok that all 62,000 US troops and the equipment needed to open a second front against Iraq would be permitted to operate from Turkey, whatever the political situation in Ankara.
Laying out his plan of action for the US presidential envoy for Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad, Erdogan said that as soon as he was installed, he would sack the five cabinet ministers who voted against military cooperation with the US war on Iraq. Even if the political process dragged out, he would not hold Washington hostage to Turkish politics. American action could press forward from Turkey under preveious strategic accords between the two countries.
Turkish troops, he promised, would fight alongside American units and those units could count on Turkish bases.
General Ozkok this week wholeheartedly endorsed that pledge after overcoming his trepidation over the threat of a Turkish-Kurdish confrontation in northern Iraq igniting a Kurdish revolt in Turkey.
Erdogan only asked that US troops landing in Turkey maintain a low profile and act like participants in Operation Northern Watch, which enforces the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. He also requested that the arrival of US forces – tanks crews and soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division – be kept low key and inconspicuous until next weekend. American soldiers in civilian clothes will continue to be ferried by commercial planes into Turkish air bases. To collect their gear, they will head out to US camps being thrown up in southern Turkey or Turkish military facilities placed at US disposal.
Both Erdogan and his chief of staff are putting their careers on the line in a far from certain ploy.
However, although Turkey stands in desperate need of the multibillion financial package promised by the Bush administration for Ankara’s participation, Erdogan is additionally influenced by another consideration. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources and experts stress that the future prime minister wants a military presence in northern Iraq as leverage for a say in the US military administration of the region and especially its oil fields, just in case Washington reneges on its pledge of $2 billion a year in oil revenues and its guarantee that Iraqi Kurdistan will not gain independence.

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