Turks seek to repair Iraq oil pipeline: Hugh Pope, in Istanbul, reports on the government's desire to restore its money-spinning dealings with Baghdad

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The Independent Online
TURKEY is again beating on Washington's door with plans to ready the Turkey-Iraq oil pipeline for use, in case UN sanctions against Baghdad - which Ankara sees as counterproductive - weaken or are lifted.

With Russia, France and China also pushing for a change in sanctions, Washington's signals to Turkey have been mixed, despite its ally's dire need for new sources of income to overcome a worsening economic situation.

'Bush won the war and Clinton does not want to lose it,' Milliyet newspaper has quoted one bitter Turkish official as saying. A US spokesman in Ankara said recently that nothing had been ruled out, while the Turkish Foreign Ministry had to deny reports that the US ambassador had tried to stall the initiative and head Turkey off into a maze of United Nations negotiations.

'Everyone agrees this pipeline must be saved . . . the ambassador told us his government agreed,' a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ferhat Ataman, said earlier this month. Discussions with permanent members of the UN Security Council had already started, he added, 'to solve this within the UN system'.

To add to the confusion, the UN has the right to one-third of Iraqi oil income to defray its post-Gulf war expenses. This right has been of little use, since Baghdad has refused to pump the oil under these conditions.

Despite sanctions, Iraqi oil has already been quietly marketed by Saudi Arabia, and Jordan imports it. Even America's moral purity has been questioned. State Department officials last month revealed to Congress that to save aid money, Iraqi oil was being bought with US funds through middlemen for distribution to the Iraqi Kurds.

The biggest obstacle to renovation of the pipeline is that it has been blown up several times this year by Kurdish rebels in south-eastern Turkey. Turkey also has a basic difference of philosophy over the US policy of containment in the Middle East. Turkey may be a Nato member, heavily dependent on Western goodwill as domestic economic chaos looms, but it still has to live cheek by jowl with Washington's bugbears, Iraq and Iran.

'People are suffering in Iraq,' one senior Turkish official said. 'The Americans think Saddam will go. Our observations tell a different story. The more you push him around, the more people will gather around him.'

Ankara's actions are not just for the Iraqi Arabs, for whom the Turks show little love. Baghdad was once Turkey's second-biggest trading partner and officials in Ankara blame part of their economic troubles on trading losses running into billions of dollars. The pipeline used to pump 1.5 million barrels of oil a day to the terminal at Yumurtalik, producing transit revenue alone for Turkey of dollars 250m (pounds 168m).

(Map omitted)

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