Since the end of its war against Iraq in 1991, Washington has enforced a self-declared "no-fly" zone over the area where the oil sites will be built, with regular patrols and strikes by warplanes.
The move by the Turkish government marks another step in its collaboration with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. "So long as Baghdad does not have full control over the totality of Iraq, Turkey will make sure nothing goes on in north Iraq that it does not like," said Soli Ozel, an international relations professor at Bilgi University in Istanbul.
Ankara waged a brutal 15-year war against Kurdish forces fighting for independence in southeast Turkey, which has left more than 30,000 people dead. The Turkish regime has relied on two Kurdish factions in northern Iraq for assistance in repressing Kurdish guerrillas led by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in western Turkey. Although a cease-fire was declared in 1999, the Turkish military periodically launches attacks on Kurds in northern Iraq under the pretext that guerrillas remain based there. In early January, 800 Turkish troops entered northern Iraq supposedly to drive out remaining Kurdish independence fighters.
The new oil drilling pact was approved by the Iraqi state oil company and comes as the Turkish ruling class has sent conflicting signals to Washington over a new military assault on Iraq.
In mid-December the New York Times reported the Turkish government would give the go-ahead for Washington to use Turkish military bases if the Bush "administration were committed to toppling" Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. The article took note of the fact that then defense minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu stated a month earlier that Ankara had "several times said that we don't wish an operation in Iraq, but new conditions would bring new evaluations to our agenda."
After getting wind in its sails from the success in its war in Afghanistan and an expanding military presence in the region, some officials in the Bush administration and other bourgeois pundits have been pressing for a renewed drive to oust the regime of Saddam Hussein. An article in the December 17 New York Times noted that the "current military success" of Washington's war against Afghanistan, and the demonstration of a "new model of warfare there," have "created a new opportunity to act in Iraq."
In an opinion piece headlined "Next Stop, Iraq," published in the November 15 Wall Street Journal, former British foreign secretary David Owen called for the U.S. government to "establish a military base with an airfield in Northern Iraq" to bolster efforts to "pursue a counter-terrorist strategy."
But the Turkish rulers remain skittish about a massive U.S. military assault against Iraq, fearing a repeat of the Kurdish revolt that erupted following Washington's 1990–91 assault on the Iraqi people. A war on Iraq would provoke "much greater adversity" for Turkey, asserted Chief of General Staff Huseyin Kivrikoglu, according to a December 26 Reuters dispatch. "An independent Kurdish state would be on the agenda," he added.
Some 20 million to 30 million Kurds are divided among southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In the aftermath of the Iraq war, the Kurdish people took advantage of the weakening of the Saddam Hussein regime to press forward their struggle, holding many villages and towns, before Baghdad used helicopter gunships and heavy armor to crush the rebellion.
Recently, a delegation of nine U.S. senators embarked on a week-long tour of several countries in Central Asia that included a meeting to bolster Turkish support. "We are appreciative...of the sensitivity regarding Kurds, that's why any action taken by the United States vis-a-vis Saddam Hussein would be after a period of consultation and hopefully cooperation particularly with the Turkish government," said Sen. John McCain.
Despite plans floated in the U.S. big-business media for launching a war against Iraq, such military action has apparently been put on the back burner for now. In an interview with the New York Times, Deputy Defense Minister Paul Wolfowitz, one of the staunchest advocates for attacking Iraq, "suggested that the Pentagon could opt to put off the bigger and politically more difficult targets in the war on terrorism like Iraq."
Meanwhile, the Turkish parliament approved a measure extending the use of a Turkish air base by U.S. and British warplanes to enforce no-fly zones over northern Iraq for another six months starting from December 31.
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