MURAT YETKİN > ‘Turkey-US had agreed on Turkish troops in Iraq’

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Former Chief of General Staff Özkök (R)
has testified in an alleged coup trial. Hürriyet photo

Former Chief of General Staff Özkök (R) has testified in an alleged coup trial. Hürriyet photo

Murat Yetkin Murat Yetkin murat.yetkin@hdn.com.tr

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.


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Blue Dotterel

8/7/2012 6:02:32 AM

So Ozkok also agreed to illegally invade and occupy a neighboring country. This is a very sad admission for the Turkish military, and would have been a violation Ataturk's Kemalist principals. Cross-border raids are one thing, but aiding a war of agression is against the very Nuremburg principles that civilized nations put in place after WWII is an insult to the Turkish Republic, and the principles it was founded on. Shame General Ozkok.

Sifis Petac

8/6/2012 8:33:09 PM

Besides what you are saying, the invasion to Iraq saved you from being the experiment of IMF like did in Argentina. American used your land as a base so it hadn't been convenient to lead you into bankrupt.

umar farooq

8/6/2012 8:05:39 PM

intervention in another state without critical need is not a wise decision, so far as helping the US is concerned, look around in other regions and conflict zones and you get the answer, lackey are treated badly and always come out second best. Turkey made the right decision not to invade Iraq.

Faruk Timuroglu

8/6/2012 4:40:57 PM

Military brass in 2003 saved Turkey from a mayhem by hindering American Neo-Cons’ "Great Middle East" project. However, Turkey’s PM and co-president of the project, RTE jailed them for jeopardizing American-Israeli plot in the region. The aim of the project is setting up an oil and water rich Kurdish State to supplement America & Israel. Now they are stuck in Syrian Desert.


8/6/2012 4:02:31 PM

Exactly, it wouyld be one thing if Turks had any say on the invasion of Irak by USA, but no we did not. All we did was deny the opportunity to confront PKK outside of our borders, an opportunity presented on a golden tray. National defense and interests are NOT a popularity contests. This is not commercial TV.

mara mcglothin

8/6/2012 4:00:05 PM

Iti s said that friendship is a "mutual use" and when you do not help your friends you rarely get their help in return. What goes around surely does come back around and after 8 years it looks like we are finally hearing about some of the innovative thinking of the AKP. Spot on MURAT!

Recep Ozel

8/6/2012 2:50:50 PM

@sid solo It is crazy to think that allowing an autonomous PKK-supporting region in Northern Iraq is in the interests of Turkey. If this was made clear back in 2003 there is not a member of the public that would have supported the decision. Bad strategy by AKP, and it did nothing to stop the war in Iraq.

sid solo

8/6/2012 12:39:18 PM

The decision not to enter an unjustifiable war against Iraq alongside the US war machine will enter the history books as one of the better moments of the Turkish Republic, and a principled stance against a war based on US lies. Turkey would have become an accomplice to that war and in a worse position today in relation to the region's Arabs and Kurds.It is clear that the officers of that time have been eliminated and as a result the hostilities against Syria can be aided from Turkish soil.

Recep Ozel

8/6/2012 11:59:33 AM

This decision was the biggest strategic mistake in recent years. If the other choice was taken, today our country would not be fighting within it's own borders. The government went for popular opinion to gain more votes while sacrificing the country and not releasing all of the strategic facts like these.


8/6/2012 12:37:45 AM

Leadership is doing the right thing even when it is not popular and difficult. Thats what seperates a leader from a mere politician. In effect, this makes AKP responsible for all the death and destruction PKK caused since.
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