Turkey and Egypt breach boycott of Iraq

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The Independent Online
QUIETLY breaching the two- year-old Western diplomatic embargo on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Turkey yesterday sent a charge d'affaires to reopen the Turkish embassy in Baghdad. And it has emerged that the Egyptians are planning to send a senior diplomat to Baghdad, ostensibly to look after the interests of their nationals there.

The separate moves indicate a pragmatic desire to pursue national interests while not publicly changing policy towards Iraq.

Turkey and Egypt are the two largest countries in the Islamic world to have had a key role in the anti-Iraq coalition before and during the Gulf war. Two years on both continue to support the UN sanctions against Iraq, and insist on Iraq's compliance with UN resolutions. But equally, both are opposed to any move such as the establishment of an independent Kurdish state that would partition Iraq.

Turkish and Western officials played down the departure of the diplomat, Sadi Calislar. But the first reopening of the mission of a Western alliance member will undoubtedly be feted by Iraq as a diplomatic victory and a snub to the United States. 'We've drawn Turkey's attention to the fact that this will send the wrong signal,' said a Western diplomat in Ankara. 'But as time goes on other members of the coalition will also realise that Saddam is not going to fall soon. They will hedge their bets too . . . there will inevitably be a crumbling of the coalition.'

In fact, Turkish diplomats have been coming and going to Baghdad for some time. Turkey announced it would reopen its embassy in July last year, but pressure from the US and other Western states kept it closed. Turkish officials stress that as a simple charge d'affaires, Mr Calislar will have no direct contact with President Saddam.

The Baghdad press recently called the Turkish Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel, a dog, a lackey of the West and a thief of Iraq's water. For its part, Ankara suspects that Baghdad supports Kurdish guerrillas in south-eastern Turkey, that it arranged the bombing of Turkish UN trucks helping the Kurds of northern Iraq and that Iraq's movement of missiles into the no-fly zones in January was a deliberate provocation of the Western alliance. But arguments in favour of re-opening the embassy have prevailed in Mr Demirel's government.

The Egyptians have yet to make any official announcement, but informed sources say that they are sending a senior diplomat, a counsellor, to Baghdad. A senior consular official, Mahmoud Khairallah, works out of the Egyptian interests section at the Indian embassy to look after the estimated 100,000 Egyptian citizens still living and working in Iraq. The dispatch of a political officer is explained as intended to make such representation more effective.

Iraq is sending a senior diplomat to Cairo in exchange, and each country is opening an office of its national news agency in the other's capital.

Other Arab states, including Oman, Qatar and Bahrain, have all urged better ties with Iraq. For his part, Saddam Hussein has sent his half-brother, recently recalled to Baghdad as special adviser after a long sojourn in Geneva, round those Arab states that always maintained relations with Iraq.