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Turkey: Second-Guessing Fades As Opposition To War In Iraq Solidifies

Just two weeks ago, some politicians and prominent analysts in Turkey were criticizing the government in Ankara for damaging relations with the U.S. by not granting Washington the use of its territory as it prepared for a military offensive against Baghdad. Today, however, the country appears united in its opposition to the war, and the second-guessing appears to have faded.

Ankara, 31 March 2003 (RFE/RL) Pro-Iraqi chants such as the following are heard quite often these days on Ankara's main Ataturk Boulevard: "Allah Almighty! Allah Almighty! "Muslims of Iraq, your blood will not be wasted," and "Iraq is our soul, and our blood will not be wasted."

Ataturk Boulevard is the preferred location for antiwar protests in the Turkish capital. Most of the city's prominent government buildings, including the prime minister's office and the Turkish parliament, are located there, as are the offices of the country's largest television stations and newspapers.

Early this month, lawmakers in the Turkish parliament failed to endorse a motion that would have allowed the deployment of some 62,000 U.S. troops on Turkish soil in exchange for some $30 billion in compensation by Washington.

On 20 March, the Turkish parliament did approve a government motion allowing Washington to use Turkish airspace for military attacks against neighboring Iraq. The motion also included support for the deployment of Turkish troops into Iraq's mainly Kurdish northern areas. Ankara maintains any such movements would be purely for humanitarian or defensive reasons.

Both Washington and Britain, however, strongly object to such a deployment for fear of renewing tensions with local fighters.

Many Turks now view Washington's opposition to such troops deployments as punishment for the Turkish parliament's refusal to allow the deployment of U.S. troops on Turkish soil. That decision has complicated the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq by denying the coalition a northern front.

Cemil Cicek, Turkey's justice minister and the government's main spokesman, said the Turkish parliament's vote reflected what the majority of the electorate wanted from their representatives. Cicek said that if the U.S. sincerely stands for democracy and human rights, Turkey's decision should be respected and not used as an excuse for revenge. "The Mejlis [parliament] is very important to us. Our Mejlis is as important to us as the [U.S.] Congress is to you!" Cicek said.

Havva Kok is a former political adviser to the government and a professor of international relations at Mersin University in southern Turkey. She said the current crisis in U.S.-Turkish relations illustrates the hypocrisy behind American claims that it wants to bring democracy and human rights to Iraq through the current war.

"America wants democracy that serves only its interests, and it wants dictatorships which do the same. So far, the U.S. has not been complaining about the Saudi dictatorship because it serves American interests. Up until now, it was happy with Turkish democracy, since it was serving American interests. But at this very moment, the U.S. is not happy with Turkish democracy because it is not serving American interests. This is nothing but duplicity," Kok told RFE/RL.

Turkish politicians and commentators are in the midst of a debate about who is most to blame for the poor state of relations between the U.S. and Turkey. The majority of analysts in Turkey point to Washington, as did Cicek in his latest statement. "Naturally, it is impossible to say that our relations with America are better than a month ago. But if the relations went wrong, what is [Turkey's] fault?! Turkey sincerely didn't want to come to the current point. But others shouldn't blame Turkey for their own miscalculations. It is unfair," Cicek said.

Cicek said the U.S. miscalculated the degree of antiwar sentiment among the Turkish public and the role of public opinion in Turkish democracy, just as U.S. military planners underestimated the level of resistance by Iraqis in the war. He said Ankara is doing its best to end the current cold war with Washington but that it takes effort by both sides.

Professor Kok also believes that if anyone is responsible for the current crisis in U.S.-Turkish relations, it is Washington. But she notes that Turkey has a new government inexperienced in the ways of foreign affairs, and that it didn't send the right messages to Washington.

"Turkey's government was a very new one, and that's why it couldn't make it clear what it might give and what it might not. Had the government said from the beginning [to the U.S.] that 'We can't give you this and that, but we can give you this and that,' then the Americans would not have been under much illusion. But the final [outcome] is a very right and very optimal one," Kok said.

Kok said U.S.-Turkish relations are not quite as bad as they appear. She believes there are positive lessons for Turkey to learn from the current crisis.

"In terms of the economy, the main thing is that Turkey should look at its own resources and learn how to make the best use of them. It's the same with security. Now, Turkey will have to improve relations with its neighbors and seek to establish -- together with its neighbors -- a peaceful regional policy. It cannot achieve its security solely by looking at the U.S. and the West," Kok said.

However, Kok acknowledged that Turkey's neighbors -- such as Syria and Iran -- will not easily regain their trust in Turkey. But she believes that Turkey's stand on Iraq may serve as a fruitful beginning for a new era in regional politics in the Middle East.