What was the Turkish position on the war with Iraq?
The 1991 Gulf War was an economic and social disaster for Turkey. Most Turks feared that the 2003 Iraq war would bring the same sorts of huge problems just at a time when Turkey was least able to deal effectively with them because of a new, inexperienced government and a weak economy.
Turkey shares a 300-km (186-mile) border with Iraq (map), once known as Mesopotamia. From 1534 to 1915 Iraq was governed from Istanbul as part of the Ottoman Empire.
British forces occupied Ottoman Iraq during World War I in order to control Iraq’s petroleum reserves, among the world’s largest. The strategic value of oil was recognized over a century ago, and has governed the Western world’s relations with Iraq ever since.
Before the first Gulf War Iraq was one of Turkey’s best customers, buying Turkish-made cars, trucks, buses, pharmaceuticals, foods and manufactured goods. In exchange, Turkey bought badly-needed Iraqi oil.
During the first Gulf War, Turkey was a staunch American ally, providing essential military and diplomatic support.
After the war, the UN embargo on Iraq stopped this lucrative, mutually beneficial trade, and the Turkish economy suffered heavy losses. President and Mrs Bush (the first President Bush) spent three days in Turkey “seeing the sights” as a thank-you gesture and an attempt to jump-start Turkish tourism, which also had suffered a catastrophic drop before and during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Though they wasted no love on Saddam Hussein or his regime, it’s no wonder most Turks opposed the warin Iraq. They had little to gain and lots to lose.
After American and Coalition troops fly home, Turkey will still have Iraq as a neighbor, and will have to live with the consequences of the war for decades.
American travelers should read the US Embassy in Ankara’s website, as well as on the US Department of State’s Consular Information Sheet before making their decision of when to travel in Turkey.
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