Turkey Opens Back Door to Relations with Iraq

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UNDER economic and political pressure, the Turkish government is seeking to normalize ties with Iraq without breaking the United Nations-imposed sanctions. The administration of Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, responding to lobbying from businessmen and politicians, has taken steps to reopen an oil pipeline and border crossings and establish a basis for future economic cooperation with Saddam Hussein's government. According to government officials, Turkey is suffering no less than Jordan from the UN sanctions imposed following the Gulf war. They estimate the losses suffered in Turkish-Iraqi trade during the last four years at about $20 billion. Some Western experts dispute this figure, but admit that the Turkish economy has suffered considerably. Iraq was Turkey's third-largest trading partner before the war. Many Turkish firms were engaged in giant construction projects in Iraq, and Turkey collected $250 million in transit fees from the oil pipeline from Kirkuk in Iraq to Turkey's Yumurtalik terminal on the Mediterranean Sea. The new Turkish policy involves a more independent line in reestablishing ties with Iraq and joint efforts with Jordan on sanctions. In an Aug. 28 visit to Amman, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel issued a joint appeal with King Hussein for lifting the economic sanctions and announced that both governments had agreed to deploy diplomatic efforts to end the embargo. Western diplomats are somewhat skeptical of the new policy. "The signs are that Turkey is gradually alienating herself from the West on Iraqi policy," says one Western diplomat. "The recent call for the end of the embargo shows how differently the Turks see things. They take it that Saddam {Hussein} is here to stay, and they want to reestablish relations with his regime. All this is contrary to United States policy and also indicates a shift in Turkey's past attitude, which went along with the policy o f the West." Meanwhile, Turkey reopened the Habur border crossing with Iraq on Aug. 28. Hundreds of Turkish trucks are now using this gateway to carry food and medicine to Iraq - described as humanitarian aid under the UN sanctions. The trucks are returning to Turkey with up to two tons of oil per truck. According to a government announcement, this oil is to be used for operating the trucks only. But some of the oil is reportedly being diverted to the market. Officials say this amount is insignificant and does not prov oke objections from the UN. And last week, a delegation of 60 leading Turkish businessmen, headed by the president of the Turkish Union of Chambers of Commerce, Yalim Erez - a close associate of Prime Minister Ciller - visited Baghdad. …