To understand Turkey's vote supporting its right to send troops
to northern Iraq, look no further than Kirkuk and Mosul, two oil-
rich cities that tell the story of Turkey's own manifest destiny.
It's a tale that continues to develop today, driving Turkish policy
on Iraq and further straining relations between Ankara and
Since the controversial parliamentary vote late last week, the US
has been trying to dissuade Turkey from entering Iraq unilaterally.
Yesterday, Ankara announced that Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq
had not advanced toward the Turkish border, which Turkey says would
justify a military deployment.
Iraqi-held Kirkuk and Mosul - which Kurdish, Turkish, and
American forces could home in on in coming days - have long sat like
Turkey's unrealized hinterlands. According to Turkish history books,
European powers, engaged in a duplicitous "Great Game" at the end of
World War I to carve up the Middle East, deprived the crumbling
Ottoman Empire of Kirkuk and Mosul - regions founding father Kemal
Ataturk saw as belonging, without question, to the nascent Republic
of Turkey. As compensation for their loss, Turkey was promised some
10 percent of the oil revenues of Iraq. The money came "in fits and
starts," says Ankara University professor Dogu Ergil, and after 13
years, it stopped coming all together. A line item for the Iraqi oil
revenue still appears in Turkey's national budget each year - next
to it, a blank space.
"It is in the public conscience, no matter what anyone says, that
those areas are meant to be within Turkey's borders," says Ahmet K.
Han, a political economist at Istanbul Bilgi University. "Turkish
students learn that Mosul and Kirkuk were intended to be part of the
natural borders of Turkey, in the misak-i milli," he adds, using the
Ottoman Turkish term for Ataturk's vision of Turkey's boundaries as
agreed upon in the country's founding National Pact.
To be sure, few Turks today talk about the misak-i milli. But
most here hold as sacred the tenet that Turkey can and must prevent
Iraqi Kurds - many of whom were forced out of Mosul and Kirkuk by
Saddam Hussein - from gaining control of the cities. With their own
oil, Turkish officials argue, Kurds could make a Kurdish state
economically viable. In Turkish minds, that would spell the end of
Turkey's borders because it would prompt Kurds in southeastern
Turkey - around 20 percent of the country's population - to fight to
join a new Kurdistan.
The very concept of a far-away superpower enforcing new ideas of
"regime change" digs up old resentments at having been swindled out
of lucrative territory Turkey saw as its natural soil.
But for those with a shorter view of history, the last US-led war
against Iraq triggered many of Turkey's current economic and
political problems. The 1991 Gulf War ended normal trade relations
between Iraq and Turkey. The war also closed down an oil pipeline
from Kirkuk to Ceyhan, Turkey, causing Turkey to lose revenue it
collected from transporting the oil to the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey
also blames the first Gulf War's flood of refugees for allowing
thousands of guerrillas in the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) to
slip into Turkey, heating up a violent separatist war.
The pipeline was repaired in 1996. After years of sanctions, Iraq
was allowed to sell some of its oil under the United Nations-
administered oil-for-food program. …