Turks end flirtation with Saddam

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The Independent Online
TANSU CILLER, the Turkish Prime Minister, gave firm backing yesterday to the US stand against Iraqi troop build-ups near Kuwait, effectively ending her country's recent flirtation with the government of Saddam Hussein.

'Let's say it clearly. This has created severe doubts about Baghdad's will to make peace and integrate with the international community,' Mrs Ciller told her ruling party group. She had promised co-operation with President Bill Clinton when he telephoned on Monday.

Iraq's ambassador to Ankara was still being quoted yesterday as saying Baghdad's honeymoon with Turkey was not over. But when push comes to shove in such crises, Turkey shows little desire to deviate from the international consensus.

The man who has raised doubts about the allegiance of Nato's only Muslim member is the new foreign minister, Mumtaz Soysal. Last month he said he believed President Saddam was a changed man. But he has had little to say as his pro-Iraqi policy has embarrassingly collapsed. 'Both sides are trying to influence the Security Council,' he told reporters, trying to cast doubt on whether Iraqi troops were really massing on the Kuwaiti border.

Sami Kohen, chief foreign- affairs commentator on the daily Milliyet, had no doubt that Turkish diplomacy had reached a dead-end in Baghdad. A cherished plan to flush the rusting Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline was now just a dream, he said. 'For months, Turkish diplomats have been trying to bring Iraq and the West closer, telling Baghdad to do what the West tells it to do, and telling the West to lighten the embargo. But there's not much more Turkish diplomacy can do.'

A question-mark will always remain over Turkey's attitude to Operation Provide Comfort. The allied air force based since 1991 in Incirlik, Turkey numbers about 50 planes and helps protect Iraqi Kurds by enforcing a no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel in Iraq.

Turks are suspicious of anything that might encourage the emergence of an independent Kurdish state. But they do not want a repeat of the situation after the Gulf war in 1991, when Iraqi troops forced more than 500,000 Iraqi Kurds to flee over the mountains to Turkey.

Mehmet Golhan, the Defence Minister, doubted there would be any call for the use of force, but voiced Turkey's dilemma. He noted that Ankara would not act separately from the United Nations, but added that 'it would be difficult for us to allow use of Incirlik airbase. We will have to think about it'.

President Saddam has in fact moved troops away from northern Iraq to mass them in the south, reducing the threat to the Turkish border. One Turkish commentator said a petering out of the new Gulf crisis could be the worst scenario for Turkey's fragile economy and tottering coalition government.