Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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December 5, 2002

Turkey “Clarifies” Its Future Rôle in a Possible War with Iraq; Makeup of the New Turkish Cabinet

Analysis. The US and Turkey emerged on November 4, 2002, from delicate negotiations about Turkish-US cooperation in the US-led war against Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein with both governments preserving their positions: the US that it would significantly assist Turkey in its European Union (EU) entry negotiations, and the Turkish Government “limiting” US military utilization of Turkey in the war essentially to air bases and facilities use. GIS sources in both governments indicated that both sides felt that they had “survived” the first test of US-Turkish relations in the era of the new Islamist Administration of Prime Minister Abdullah Gul.

Essentially, the discussions meant that there would probably be no interference — as a result of the Turkish Government’s position — in the apparent US timetable to maintain the escalation of military operations against Iraq to the point of US conventional force intervention in around mid-January to early February 2003.

On the other hand, once again, the Turkish leadership — particularly the Turkish General Staff — has felt that it has won the upper hand vis-à-vis the US and the EU, which means that the General Staff would be unlikely to go out of its way to offer concessions to the EU on such matters as the settlement of the Cyprus issue, now pending as a matter for the December 2002 EU summit. On the other hand, the Cyprus issue was of diminishing sensitivity for the General Staff, and there were indications that — with former Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit out of the way and Northern Cyprus leader Rauf Denktas incapacitated with illness — some accommodation would be reachable over the coming six months on Cyprus.

Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis on December 4, 2002, “clarified” his statements of the day before, in which he had indicated that Turkey would allow US forces to use its airspace and military bases if it went to war with Iraq. He had said that cooperation with the US in an attack against Iraq would mean “opening [Turkish] air bases and opening facilities to use” by US combat aircraft launching strikes against Iraq.

In his clarification, he stated that Turkey “had not made any commitment to the US” about such use and still hoped for a peaceful resolution of the dispute with Iraq.

His clarification came after the Turkish Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, told Hurriyet, a leading Turkish newspaper, that it was only the “personal view of the Minister” and that the Turkish National Security Council had not been informed about such a decision. The play-off between the new Government and the General Staff gives “room for maneuver” in what eventually takes place between US and Turkish forces in the actual implementation of the war. But Gen. Buyukanit’s comments were also meant to be cautionary to the new Government, with the General Staff looking for a way to demonstrate to Prime Minister Gul that there were limits on his determination of national security policy.

Yakis and other Turkish Government officials stressed that military action must first have UN approval. They added that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 did not give automatic approval for military action if Iraq was found to be in “material breach” of the Resolution’s requirements regarding UN inspections in Iraq or Iraq’s possession of forbidden weapons and weapons programs. In any event, Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, also said that Turkey had not made a final decision regarding Iraq.

The inability of US forces to use Turkish air bases and air space, and possibly military bases for a land assault against Northern Iraq, would vastly complicate any US-led war against Iraq, particularly if Saudi Arabia would not allow the US to use its air bases. Although US bombers would probably be able to use facilities in Qatar and from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, US Air Force bombers would have to fly from the United Kingdom or the United States for attacks against Iraq military targets in northern Iraq. Special Forces and airborne troops could be dropped in the north to open a second front, but they would lack heavy equipment and would have to be supplied entirely from the air.

The Turkish statements came in the wake of a December 3-4, 2002 visit by US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman.

Mr Wolfowitz stated on December 4, 2002, that the US would initiate discussions with Turkey about investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Turkish air bases that US forces potentially would use in the event of war with Iraq.

Although playing “hard to get” as to its future rôle in a war with Iraq, even under a UN umbrella, Turkey indicated that it was expecting that the US would pay for both the expected expenses and economic losses that would be incurred by Turkey in the event of war. Turkish estimates by officials and analysts of such expenses and damages have ranged from a low of $12-billion to as high as $25-billion.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz addressed that issue by saying that those losses “could be reduced to the least” if an economic security network was formed. That may not have satisfied Turkish concerns, in view of its current economic crisis, as well as the multi-billion dollar losses Turkey following the 1991 Gulf War resulting from the impact of UN sanctions on Iraqi-Turkish trade.

Furthermore, Turkish officials had told Mr Wolfowitz and Mr Grossman that Turkey would want compensation for expenses and losses channeled directly through the US Defense Department, and not in the form of “indirect aid” that would depend on US Congressional legislation. Such a distinction may be lost on the US Congress, which also approves the US Defense Department’s budget.

Turkey, as usual, was also very concerned about the possibility of an independent Kurdistan rising in northern Iraq in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s fall, and looked for reassurances from the US that it would not support such a development. In addition, reflecting the growing pan-Turkic feelings in Turkish political and military circles, Turkey added that if a post-Saddam Iraq was restructured as a federation, with a Kurdish province, then the Iraqi Turkmens should also have the same status as the Kurds.

Mr Wolfowitz’s response in support of these issues may not have been as strong as the Turkish government desired (in the past he has been included among the Bush Administration officials who have favored the dismemberment of Iraq, calling its current borders a mistake of British imperialism). However, he did say that the US would look at the kinds of military measures that could be taken to protect Iraqi territorial integrity and to prevent the foundation of an independent Kurdish state.

Recent US efforts on behalf of Turkey were crucial to the International Monetary Fund giving Turkey $16-billion in loans to aid its economic recovery. However, in the category of "what have you done for me lately", Turkey was pressing the US for assistance in its drive for EU membership, and in settling the Cyprus problem, which has focused around the new UN plan calling for a complicated power sharing arrangement between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Those issues may be just as important to the new Turkish Government as the issue of a new UN resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq when – and if – it comes time to decide whether to join the US in military action.

New Turkish Cabinet

The new Turkish Cabinet is composed of 25 members from the Justice and Development Party (AKP), only eight of whom served as Deputies in previous Parliaments. There are six former Ministers in the new Government.

The average age of the Cabinet is 47; the youngest member, Minister of State Ali Babacan, is 37, and the oldest member, Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, is 64. Two members are in their 30s, seven members are in their 40s, eleven members are in their 50s, and three members are in their 60s.

The only woman in the Cabinet is Tourism Minister Guldal Aksit, 42. Four members hold Ph.D.’s, including Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, who has a Ph.D. in economics, and one, Health Minister Recep Akdag, is a doctor of medicine. Seven members have law degrees, three have engineering degrees, and three members are university professors.

Fifteen of the 25 Cabinet members speak English, four of whom also speak French, and one also speaks German. Two other members speak French, one of whom also speaks Arabic. Three other members speak Arabic.

Abdullah Gul formally assumed the office of Prime Minister of Turkey on November 19, 2002, following the overwhelming election victory of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) on November 3, 2002. He was born in Kayseri in 1950, and received his bachelor’s degree from the Faculty of Economics, Istanbul University. He then received a scholarship to live in London and Exeter in the United Kingdom for two years, where he did his master’s and doctorate degrees. Mr Gul worked for the Islamic Development Bank and then served as a State Minister in the 54th Turkish Government. He then was elected Deputy Chairman of the Turkish Virtue Party (FP) and entered the Parliament as an FP Deputy for the third time in 1999. He then became Deputy Chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Mr Gul is married with three children and speaks English and Arabic.

Vecdi Gonul was appointed the Turkish Minister of National Defense on November 19, 2002, after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a majority of seats in the Turkish Parliament in the November 3, 2002 elections. He was born in Erzincan in 1939, and graduated from the Faculty of Political Science, Ankara University. A career civil servant, he worked as a member and then Chairman of the Supreme Court of Accounts, then as an Undersecretary of the Interior Ministry, and served as a Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He was elected a Deputy from Kocaeli in the November 2002 elections. Mr Gonul is married with three children.

Yasar Yakis was appointed Turkish Foreign Minister on November 19, 2002, following the November 3, 2002 election victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). He was born in Akcakoca in 1938, and graduated from the Faculty of Political Science, Ankara University. He joined the Foreign Ministry in 1962; during his diplomatic career he served as the Turkish Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt, and he was appointed Turkey’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 1998. He was elected a Deputy from Duzce in the November 2002 elections. Mr. Yakis, who speaks English, French and Arabic, is married and has one child.

The new Turkish Cabinet is as follows:

Prime Minister: Gul, Abdullah
Minister of State & Deputy Prime Minister: Sener, Abdullatif
Minister of State & Deputy Prime Minister: Sahin, Mehmet Ali
Minister of State & Deputy Prime Minister: Yalcinbayir, Ertugrul
Minister of State: Aydin, Mehmet
Minister of State: Atalay, Besir
Minister of State for Economy: Babacan, Ali
Minister of State: Tuzmen, Kursat
Minister of Agriculture & Rural Affairs: Guclu, Sami
Minister of Culture: Celik, Huseyin
Minister of Energy & Natural Resources: Guler, Hilmi
Minister of Environment: Sutluoglu, Imdat
Minister of Finance: Unakitan, Kemal
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Yakis, Yasar
Minister of Forestry: Pepe, Osman
Minister of Health: Akdag, Recep
Minister of Interior: Aksu, Abdulkadir
Minister of Justice: Cicek, Cemil
Minister of Labor & Social Security: Basesgioglu, Murat
Minister of National Defense: Gonul, Vecdi
Minister of National Education: Mumcu, Erkan
Minister of Public Works & Housing: Ergezen, Zeki
Minister of Tourism: Aksit, Guldal
Minister of Trade & Industry: Coskun, Ali
Minister of Transport: Yildirim, Binali