Magazine article The Spectator

Ottoman Umpire

Magazine article The Spectator

Ottoman Umpire

Article excerpt

The United States is suffering from a reverse Midas touch in Iraq. Just as things start to go right, fate intervenes to screw it up. So it was with Turkey's agreement in principle earlier this month to share the burden of occupation, an event billed by the White House as a major turning point. Turkey, as a serious military power willing to contribute a 10,000-strong division (roughly equal to the current British presence), would dramatically alleviate the US's acute manpower shortage. Better still, as one US diplomat enthusiastically explained to me, the Turks, as 'Sunni Muslims from the same neighbourhood' would be 'welcomed' by the Iraqis because they were 'on the same cultural wavelength'.

It was in this belief - that Turkey was somehow the vital missing link which would make the occupation suddenly start to go right - that the US expended months of diplomatic effort, plus an $8.5 billion loan, persuading Ankara to come on board. Throughout this process, members of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), particularly hut not exclusively the Kurds, were telling anyone who would listen that they opposed the presence of troops from any of Iraq's neighbours in their country. So it should have come as no surprise that when the Turks finally came through with a qualified yes to deploying troops, the IGC came out unanimously against: 24 to 0. Nor were the Kurds the most strident opponents - Adel Abdul Mchti, a Shi'ite IGC member representing the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, complained that 'the Americans arc trying to act as the authority, not only de facto but the legitimate authority and they're dictating things, trying to intervene. This is not acceptable to Iraqis.' Even the three Turkoman representatives on the Council, though personally in favour, decided to vote against because they realised, as one of them put it, Opposition [to Turkish troops] in Iraq is too strong, there could be clashes and that is in no one's interest.'

Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Instead of welcoming a major new partner in the Coalition of the Willing, the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by L. Paul Bremer III, faces a breakdown in its relations with the only political institution in Iraq - the IGC - created by the US.

'We take the governing council seriously,' insisted Bremer last week as he gadded from Black Hawk to Land Cruiser in his trademark combination of dark blue suit and yellow suede Timberland boots. 'We are in a partnership. We don't see eye to eye on everything; why should we?' Yet Washington must now either make arrangements for the deployment of Turkish troops against the wishes of the IGC, or abandon the idea of Turkish help altogether.

Neither is an attractive option. Despite the US's widely advertised military superiority, the strain of keeping such a massive military presence in Iraq is beginning to show. Already reservists are facing the prospect of a full year 'in country', twice as long as a normal tour. The uncomfortable truth is that the US cannot easily sustain the current occupation on its own. It needs more bodies on the ground, and effective fighting troops too, not just the politically useful but practically useless handfuls of Mongolians, Latvians and Hondurans who are usually posted to supply depots and the like while GIs get on with the serious business of security and reconstruction. And apart from Turkey, there have been few takers for participation in Iraq. India has cried off, citing trouble in Kashmir, and Pakistan is still dragging its heels. Even after last week's UN resolution, major military powers like Russia and France have yet to step up to the plate.

In the wake of the IGC's very public rejection of the Turks' offer of peacekeepers, Ankara's government, sensing a brewing military and PR disaster, is backing off the idea of sending troops at all. …

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