US Official Criticizes Turkey Over Iraq

ANKARA–US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz harshly criticized Turkey for not backing the United States in its war against Iraq and urged the Turks to now follow Washington’s line in relations with Iran and Syria.

Wolfowitz’ sharp commen’s in an interview broadcast Tuesday underlined tensions that have characterized US-Turkish relations since Ankara refused to allow the deployment of US ground troops to open a northern front against Iraq or the use of Turkish bases for raids on Iraq.

He told private television CNN-Turk that he was particularly disappointed with the Turkish military.

"I think for whatever reason–they did not play the strong leadership role … that we would have expected," he said in the interview–conducted Monday in Washington.

Turks overwhelmingly opposed the war against another Muslim country–saying it would destabilize the economy and the region. Many analysts believe Turkey’s military did not feel Washington was taking its security concerns into account–including fears that the strengthening of Iraqi Kurdish groups could inspire Turkey’s Kurdish rebels.

Wolfowitz said turning a new page in relations depended on Turkey’s close cooperation on Iraq and also on Iran and Syria – other neighbors of Turkey that Washington accuses of sponsoring terrorism.

"But if we are going to have a new page let’s have a Turkey that instead … of saying ‘Well–we don’t care what the Americans’ problems are with Iran and Syria–they are our neighbors,’ let’s have a Turkey that steps up and says–’We made a mistake–we should have known how bad things were in Iraq–but we know now. Let’s figure out how we can be as helpful as possible to the Americans,’" Wolfowitz said.

He said Turkey and the United States could still mend ties by closely cooperating in rebuilding Iraq.

"We have an opportunity in cooperating on maybe the most important project of this century–which is to build a free–democratic Arab country to the south of your country and frankly–if we can work together to achieve that in Iraq–it will more than repair whatever damage has been done."

Turkish companies are keen to participate in Iraq’s reconstruction.

Ankara’s refusal to let in US troops not only strained long-standing ties with the United States–but also led the Bush administration to shelve a $6 billion aid package and US commanders to rely on other bases in the region.

"It is true we didn’t get the full support we expected–but I think at the end of the day–Turkey has paid a bigger price for that than we have," Wolfowitz said.

The United States shut its last major Turkish military mission last Thursday as part of a regional shuffle of bases–raising questions about Turkey’s strategic importance to Washington.

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