Turkey lays killings at Iran's door

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THE TURKISH Interior Minister yesterday acknowledged for the first time what the Turkish press has been saying for the past week or more: namely, that Iran was behind the murders of at least three opponents of militant Islam in Turkey

'It is clear that those who committed the murders had connections with Iran,' Ismet Sezgin said, adding that police had arrested 19 members of what he called a radical Islamic group with links to Iran. They had been charged with the murder of a Turkish journalist, Cetin Emec, and a writer, Turan Dursun.

He said there were 'parallels' with the killing of the most prominent symbols of everything that Kamal Ataturk's secular, westernised Turkish republic stood for. Others killed included the head of the Ataturk thought association, Muammer Aksoy; a female lawyer, Bahriye Ucok, who had campaigned vigorously against the donning of the veil; and Turkey's most prominent investigative journalist, Ugur Mumcu.

Iran swiftly denied any involvement in the murders. The Iranian Ambassador, Mohammed Rez Bagheri, said his government was not involved in terrorist activities. 'Our mutual enemies are trying to disrupt our relations,' he said in Ankara, claiming the Turkish media published erroneous news about Iran.

The accusations against Iran upset the delicate balance of relations between Turkey and Iran on the one hand and Iraq on the other. Turkey has been at the forefront of attempts to form a regional approach to the continuing instability caused by Saddam Hussein. Next week, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran and Syria are due to meet in Damascus to discuss the situation in Iraq.

What the Interior Minister's statement reinforces is that while Turkey might gain temporarily from co-ordinating foreign policy with Iran to block establishment of an independent Kurdish republic in northern Iraq, at home Turkey will fight against any Iranian attempt to export revolutionary Islam.

It is in the same context - of contradictory domestic and foreign policy requirements - that Turkish policy towards Iraq must be seen. Turkey simply wants it both ways. The Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel, is worried that if anyone blinks Iraqi troops will attack the north and cause another huge flow of Kurdish refugees towards Turkey. The Turkish Foreign Ministry, anxious like diplomats everywhere to avoid conflict, is keen to send a senior diplomat back to Baghdad.

In June the Foreign Ministry announced it was to reactivate the embassy in Baghdad, and on Wednesday Sadi Calislar was named as charge d'affaires. And the Foreign Ministry emphasises it is under domestic pressure to be nice to fellow Muslims in Iraq.

Any such cosying-up to Baghdad will, however, be looked upon dimly by the US, for this would seem like a weakening of the coalition against Iraq. Turkey is emitting contradictory signals. Whatever the Foreign Ministry might be attempting, President Turgut Ozal recognises that Turkey's policy interests lie with the West. President Ozal, currently in the US, has taken a rather more robust attitude towards Iraq: he has called for the overthrow of President Saddam. And, despite the announcement that Turkey might send a diplomat to Baghdad, it remains committed to the coalition against Iraq and to Nato.

American, French and British warplanes are still allowed to take off from the Incirlik air base to patrol north Iraq. And the Turkish government is more or less enforcing the UN-imposed economic embargo on Iraq. Turkish overtures to Iraq have not been reciprocated. Last week Iraqi's press mounted a campaign to denigrate the Turks. Babel, the newspaper published by President Saddam's maverick son, Uday, accused Mr Demirel of being a 'Turkish dog' because of his traipsing round Arab gulf states cap in hand for financial assistance in recognition of Turkey's support for the allies in the Gulf war.

(Photograph omitted)