US Senator: Iraq pullout risks Turkey

US Senator: Iraq pullout risks Turkey

Tolga Tanış WASHINGTON / Hürriyet
US Senator: Iraq pullout risks Turkey

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) and former US Presidential candidate John McCain (2nd L) are seen in this file photo.

The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year will increase the security threats to Turkey while also allowing Iran to gain more influence in the region, according to U.S. Senator John McCain.

“I am opposed to the withdrawal. This situation will increase the influence of Iran in the region and all the gains would be compromised,” McCain, a former presidential candidate, told daily Hürriyet.

McCain also criticized the Barack Obama administration for not agreeing on a deal to keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond 2011. “The U.S. had indefinite numbers of chances to agree with the Iraqi government to stay beyond 2011; however, they did not take [advantage of] these chances and put obstacles into the way.”

Obama announced last month that the remaining 40,000 U.S. troops in Iraq would leave by the end of the year after negotiations with Baghdad on retaining some U.S. soldiers in the country collapsed over the question of legal immunity for American troops.

McCain also said Iran was supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). “Iran is supporting the PKK to disturb the balances of the Kurdish-populated regions in Turkey and other countries.”

Turkish Model

Commenting on recent PKK attacks against Turkish troops, McCain said Masoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, should cooperate with Turkey to eliminate the PKK.

“The PKK is a terrorist organization. Any country in the world would not stay immobile after 24 of its troops are killed. I hope that Barzani and others will cooperate with Turkey to eliminate the effects of the PKK,” he said in reference to the Oct. 19 PKK attack in the eastern province of Hakkari’s Çukurca district that left 24 Turkish troops dead.

“The PKK is a problem for both Turkey and [the KRG] which can be handled. However, there is no doubt that there is a great role for Turkey in the region, especially in a decade that the Arab Spring will direct countries to democracy or to radical Islam,” McCain said. “Everyone I speak to talks about the ‘Turkish model.’ They want the Turkish model, and Turkey can secure a vital role in which it has not only political influence, but also economic influence.”

McCain also issued a warning about the Iraqi government’s lack of capacity. “If you think that the Iraqi government does not have the required capacity for … intelligence sharing while the tension is high in some cities like Kirkuk, the withdrawal of U.S. troops will produce a greater security risk for Turkey,” he said.

The senator also praised Turkey’s approach toward Syria. “I would like to convey my gratitude to the Turkish leadership on the Syria issue due to the government’s effort to build a refugee camp,” he said. “[President Bashar] al-Assad promised to Turkey and the Arab League to end the bloodshed in the country; if you make a promise, you should take some steps,” he said.

Sounding a note of warning, McCain said, “Look at what happened to [Libyan leader Col. Moammar] Gadhafi when he rejected the Arab League.”