‘Turkey-US had agreed on Turkish troops in Iraq’
Former Chief of General Staff Özkök (R) has testified in an alleged coup trial. Hürriyet photo
Turkey and the United States had agreed in principle that Turkish troops would enter Iraq and establish a security belt along the border against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2003, but the agreement was annulled when the Turkish Parliament rejected a government motion to allow U.S. troops to use Turkish soil for the invasion of Iraq, former Chief of General Staff Hilmi Özkök has told the Hürriyet Daily News.
“We had drafted a very good Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S.” Özkök said. “Turkey was going to send four or five brigades [20,000-25,000 troops] into Iraq. We already had a number of special forces there and we would have been able to consolidate them. A security belt would have been formed especially covering the crossing areas of the PKK from Iraq into Turkey to carry out attacks. And we were to stay there for a long time. But when the motion was not approved by the Parliament on March 1, 2003, this agreement was not signed. If it had, Turkey would be in a much more advantageous position regarding the PKK problem.”
Özkök’s words are important if they are considered within the context of current developments such as the ongoing clashes between Turkish security forces and the PKK (for nearly two weeks now) in Şemdinli district along the border with Iraq and Iran, as well as the possibility of a Kurdish autonomous area extending from Iraq into Syria due to the civil war there – all of which is a matter of concern for Ankara.
Özkök answered HDN questions upon his testimony in an Istanbul criminal court last week as a witness in the Ergenekon case in which a number of civilians and soldiers (including another former Chief of Staff İlker Başbuğ) are accused of conspiring against the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government to undermine it. Besides unveiling the power game within the military and discrepancy among the top brass regarding an intervention into political affairs, he also raised the issue of the Iraqi crisis with the U.S. in 2003 in answer to a question.
“I was misquoted in the press,” he complained to HDN. “I never said then-U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, or any other U.S. official, had asked me to put pressure on the government to approve their motion. It is true that if the ruling party [AK Parti] had imposed a binding rule upon their Parliamentary group, the motion would have been approved. I just recalled Wolfowitz’s statement after the rejection in which he put the blame on the Turkish military, saying it had not demonstrated sufficient leadership.”
Özkök added that some members of the government had subsequently told him that the discrepancy within the top brass had prevented them from taking a binding decision and that a newspaper report quoting an unnamed “top military source” right before the Parliamentary voting claiming that there were different views within the military regarding the cooperation with the U.S. was a key factor in what transpired.
U.S. diplomatic sources, as have appeared in WikiLeaks documents, claimed that the source was Gen. Aytaç Yalman, the-then commander of the Turkish Land Forces. Yalman’s name was given to court by Özkök on Aug. 3 as the member of the General Staff who raised the issue of warning the government on political matters, including religious fundamentalism. Yalman told daily Hürriyet that he did not remember that he had said such a thing, but Özkök replied to him again through Hürriyet, saying he remembered the matter well since it was impossible to forget certain things of great importance.