Turkey’s Political Turmoil Shadows US Iraq Offensive

An assessment of the current Turkish political turmoil’s potential for holding up the US campaign against Iraq, is the errand bringing US deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz to Ankara next week. Incirlik and Adana, where the US air force bases its F-15, F-16 and AWACS aircraft, are important launch pads for striking at northern Iraq and providing air cover for the pro-US Kurdish and Turkoman contingents recruited for the US offensive to topple the Saddam Hussein regime in Baghdad.
However, debkafile‘s military sources point out that, while their strategic value next door to Iraq is high, the two bases are no longer unique. Since being booted out of its Saudi air base, the United States has set up substitute operational facilities in Jordan and Israel and other parts of the region, boosted by air carrier fleets cruising the eastern Mediterranean and southern Aegean opposite Turkish and Greek shores.
Most of all, Wolfowitz must ascertain that the Turkish special forces stationed in the Turkoman regions of Iraq are up to par and their integration in the US-led ground assault will not be hampered by political upsets in Ankara.
Last month too, Turkey, the only Muslim-majority member of NATO and a secular democracy, took control of the allied peacekeeping force in Kabul.
After two months of debilitating ill health, Turkey’s veteran political warrior, 77-year old Bulent Ecevit is left with a government and party deeply eroded by defections, economic crisis and a rising clamor for an early poll. Faced with the exit of seven ministers from his government and 43 deputies from his Democratic Left Party – DSP, the prime minister yet refuses to stand down and call an early election in September. In a live TV interview Friday, July 13, Ecevit declared elections would be considered only if his party is further splintered and his government’s parliamentary majority of 15 disappears.
He is quoted as telling his intimates: “If they want me to go, let them bring me down in parliamentary elections.”
Of the three government parties in the ruling coalition, the Motherland Party is the most likely to bail out, carrying with it the government’s majority. But when the three coalition party leaders met on Friday, July 12, none were enthusiastic about bringing the government down. November 3 was suggested only as a tentative date for an early election.
The most palpable danger to the government comes from its three key defectors – ex-foreign minister Ismail Cem, former deputy prime minister Husamettin Ozkan – whom Ecevit forced to resign, and economy minister Kemal Dervis – who was persuaded to recall his resignation, who Friday launched a new anti-Ecevit, pro-European Union liberal reform party, which threatens to prise more DSP deputies away from the government.
Ecevit had meanwhile lost no time in replacing Cem as foreign minister with an anti-EU nationalist hawk Suku Sina Gurel. This appointed appeared to conflict with the prime minister’s promise to smooth the path for Turkey to join the European Union by finding formulae to meet the EU’s demands for language and cultural concessions to the Kurdish minority and the abolition of the death penalty by the end of the year. In December the EU summit is due to decide on the opening of membership negotiations with Turkey and also Cyprus, which will bring pressure to bear on Ankara to settle the long Greek-Turkish island conflict.
Ministerial squabbles over EU demands plus the prime minister’s ill health have brought to the government to near paralysis. The stock market has plummeted while the International Monetary Fund’s huge $16 billion bailout has imposed austerity – a multiple crisis that has enhanced the popularity of nationalist groups and the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party, AKP.
The US deputy defense secretary is expected to exert damage control to stabilize the Ecevit government before it breaks up. Although his back is against the wall, the Turkish prime minister in his four decades in politics has seen it all. Some factions in the US government would prefer to dump Ecevit and switch American backing to the new reform party launched by ex-foreign minister Cem. They fancy his chances of pushing reforms that would lead Turkey into the EU through the current parliament before calling an election.

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