Jewish World Review March 11, 2003 / 7 Adar II, 5763
Thank you, Turkey, we needed that
By trying to kick us in the shin, the Turkish parliament may inadvertently
have done us a favor. There is an upside to its refusal to permit the basing
of U.S. troops in Turkey for a thrust into northern Iraq.
Turkey's parliament voted 264-251 to permit the basing of U.S.
troops, but 19 lawmakers abstained. Under the Turkish constitution, a
measure must have the support of an absolute majority of the members of
parliament to become law.
The vote, which likely will be revisited after some arm-twisting by a
red-faced Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, is a severe blow to U.S. hopes to win
a war quickly by striking simultaneously from the south and the north. If
the troops of the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) were prepositioned
along the Turkey-Iraq border with its tanks and fighting vehicles, it
quickly could seize the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, the oilfields and
refineries in the region, and be in a good position to protect the Kurds in
the Autonomous Zone from retaliatory strikes.
Without a Turkish front, an Iraq war is likely to unfold in (at least) two
acts, with the south overrun before serious offensive military operations
can begin in the north.
To fight in the north, the United States first would have to seize airfields
in northern Iraq, and then fly troops into them. This is eminently doable.
We are already improving airstrips in areas controlled by anti-Saddam
Kurdish militias. The great danger in air assault operations - that the
enemy might launch a counter-attack before the airhead has been built up
sufficiently to repel an assault - is negligible here. American air power,
coupled with the 60,000-strong Kurdish militias, already buttressed by U.S.
Special Forces, make the Iraqi capacity to launch an attack in the north
virtually nil. The airlift into the north would be more of an administrative
move than a combat assault.
The chief cost of Turkish recalcitrance is time. Only relatively light
forces can be moved by air, and it takes time to build them up. With armor
and mechanized infantry on the Turkish border, we could have gone on the
offensive in the north at H-Hour. If we have to build up airheads first, it
likely will be weeks from the onset of war before offensive operations can
be launched. Will the delay matter? Only time will tell.
But though Turkish foot-dragging severely complicates military planning, it
also simplifies postwar political problems. And the benefits Turkey could
provide militarily may be dwarfed by the problems it could cause politically
in post-Saddam Iraq.
Our chief political allies inside Iraq are the Kurds, whose militias are
numerous, fairly well armed, and reasonably well led. The (pretty much)
secular, tolerant and progressive government the Kurds have established in
the Autonomous Zone is also the best model in the Arab world for the kind of
regime we would like to see established in Baghdad after Saddam goes to his
It would be nice if the Turks, who are the closest we have to friends in the
Muslim world (except for the Bosnians and the Kosovars), have the most
democratic government in the Muslim world, and have the toughest soldiers in
the Muslim world, were friendly with the Kurds, who are also (kind of)
secular, (kind of) democratic, and awfully tough. But they hate each other.
The Kurds have threatened to fire upon any Turkish soldiers who enter their
If the Turks do not participate in the effort to remove Saddam Hussein, we
will not be required to make political concessions to the Turks that cause
hackles to rise and teeth to grind in Kurdistan.
The long term benefits from simpler, more straightforward political
arrangements in postwar Iraq likely will outweigh the short-term military
liabilities which arise from having Turkey on the sidelines.
We have to deal with Saddam now because the first President Bush terminated
the first Gulf War prematurely, primarily to assuage concerns expressed by
the Turks and the Saudis.
This time, I hope, we will pay more attention to what people inside Iraq
want as opposed to what people outside Iraq want, and give more
consideration to long term consequences than to short term diplomatic
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© 2002, Jack Kelly