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Showdown Iraq: Turkish Surprise

Aired November 4, 2002 - 12:17   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush mixes domestic politics and international policy on the eve of a crucial midterm election. Welcome to SHOWDOWN IRAQ. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Joining me this hour with all the latest developments are CNN's Jane Arraf -- she's back in Baghdad -- Walter Rodgers -- he's our man on the scene in Ankara, Turkey -- and Barbara Starr; she's over at the Pentagon. At the start of what's expected to be a crucial week for the U.N. Security Council, Iraq's vice president has declared the council -- quote -- "baffled by the American madness."
CNN's Jane Arraf is in Baghdad. She's following all these late developments. She's joining us now live -- Jane.


Well, the Iraqi president, the one who really counts here, says that Iraq is ready for war. He's been shown on television flanked by his youngest son, Hassai (ph), in charge of the security services, as well as various commanders of the armed forces, military and civilization (ph), and all the people he says that Iraq will need to fight to the last. In fact, he says, that Iraq is prepared for war to happen at any moment.

At the same time, though, he's sending out quite a lot of messages, that the Iraqi government would like to be seen as flexible on the issue of this resolution being hammered out at the U.N.

Now, there have been a string of foreign leaders who have come here for a big event in Iraqi terms, the Baghdad International Trade Fair. One of them is far right Austrian leader Jorge Haidar (ph). And shown on Iraqi television just a few moments ago, the Iraqi president was quoted as telling Haidar (ph) that Iraq, in fact, is ready to deal with any new resolution which respects the U.N. charter, international law, and the sovereignty, security and independence of Iraq.

Now that could be taken a couple of ways. It could mean that Iraq is now prepared to accept that resolution in the form that it is approaching, or it could mean that Iraq, as it always has, is saying that the resolution will have to meet criteria, that it has not met in the past.

The Iraqi also president met with the deputy South African foreign minister. We spoke with the deputy foreign minister, and he said he met the president for an hour and a half. He said Saddam Hussein appeared relaxed, in good health, and was very keen to get the across the impression that they really want the weapons inspectors back in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jane Arraf in Baghdad, thanks very much. Saddam Hussein obviously very busy receiving a series of leaders showing up in Baghdad. We'll continue to follow that story. We're glad you're back in Baghdad, obviously, as well.

There's another hugely important story that's unfolding not very far away. A new party in charge in Turkey. And it's European neighbors are reacting very cautiously. What could this mean for a U.S.-led action potentially against Iraq? Our Walter Rodgers is joining us now live from Ankara.

Walter, first of all, tell our viewers here in the United States and North America, who may not have been following the elections in Turkey precisely what happened and the significance?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sunday, there was a landslide victory for the AK Party, led by Tayyip Erdogan. Now that is a party which has deep Islamist roots, although its leader has done everything he could to shed his Islamist roots, and to say that this is a national party. Indeed, he's done everything he could to assuage anyone's fears in this country.

But vis-a-vis the war with Iraq, the most important thing to remember is that the Turkish government has long ago given the United States permission to use bases in southeastern Turkey for the war in Iraq. Planes fly out of there, U.S. Air Force planes, British planes fly out of there every day. That is not going to change the election of the AK Party, even with its Islamist roots, is not going to change anything vis-a-vis the war in Iraq, and the reason is very simple, you take a look at those Turkish generals in this country who are the real power behind the parliament, behind everything else here. Those Turkish generals feel a lot more comfortable with their fellow generals in the Pentagon than they feel with Erdogan and his new Islamist colleagues.

Case in point, as soon as Erdogan was elected, the first thing the Turkish chief the staff did was fly off to the Pentagon to confer with his fellow generals there. Remember the Turkish military is extraordinarily wary of Erdogan and the Islamist Party, or those who had Islamist roots in that party. Erdogan knows that, he knows that the Turkish general, as recently as 1997, nudged out another Islamist Party. He's treading on eggshells. He's going to do absolutely nothing to provoke the Turkish military, give them a cause to move in and nudge him out. Erdogan will go along with the U.S. war in Iraq, just as everyone else in Europe seems to be doing reluctantly, but there won't be -- the Turks won't balk -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Walter, Turkey, of course is a member of NATO, a key member of NATO. What's the mood on the street there as far as rank- and-file turks are concerned, about going to war against Iraq a second time?

RODGERS: Well, that's an entirely different issue. The Turks are NATO members, as you point out, and the Turkish military is loyal to the United States. The Turks are among the best friends, uncritical friends, genuine friends, the United States has in this part of the world.

Having said that, the Turks are not that keen to go much beyond the use of their airbases and the airspace to help the Americans, and the reason is very simple. The last time the United States went to war with Iraq, in the Gulf War in 1991, the Turks lost $30 billion to $50 billion in their economy. They have a regular trade that goes on with Iraq, and they're scared to death that if there's a war, that trade will set them back very seriously financially. They can't afford that. This is a country which is already in depression.

One other footnote to this important to watch: If the United States goes to war with Iraq and the Kurds in northern Iraq rise up, the Turks are scared to death they may have to send in troops to put down a Kurdish uprising. Those are the main reasons that the Turks are reluctant to go to war with Iraq, or even have the United States do it, but the Turks will keep their commitment to Washington, you can bet on that.

BLITZER: Walter Rodgers, we heard it here. Walter Rodgers, our man in Ankara, thanks very much for that useful information.


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