Monday, July 21, 2008

Importance of İncirlik Might Wane

From Today's Zaman:
Turkey is concerned that once the US strikes a deal with neighboring Iraq regarding the maintenance of a US military presence in the country in 2009 and beyond, this will lessen the importance of its İncirlik air base in the southern part of the country in particular and its geo-strategic importance in general.

The US has already started building military facilities both in Romania and in Bulgaria, Turkey's neighbors with coasts on the Black Sea, under bilateral access and training agreements signed with Romania in 2005 and Bulgaria in 2006. Those agreements will provide a platform for other fellow NATO member countries -- mainly the US -- in their engagement in the eastern Mediterranean as well as in the Caucasus and in Central Asia, areas that also fall under Turkey's close scrutiny.

Currently İncirlik is used by allied forces in neighboring Iraq as well as in Afghanistan for overflights (not for combat purposes), while being utilized as a cargo hub, particularly by the US.

"Turkey has been the last country which has provided overflight permission to its close ally the US," recalled one Western diplomat, speaking to Sunday's Zaman. "Since Turkish Parliament's rejection of a motion that would allow access to US troops for using Turkish soil in March 2003, Ankara has proven that strategically it is an undependable ally.

Coalition members and in particular the US do not know if permission, for example, for overflights will be cut off at any time. Washington does not know either whether Turkey will threaten to stop the US from using İncirlik every time the Armenian genocide allegations of the Ottoman Turks come up on the agenda," remarked the same source.

Every year in April, regarded as the commemoration of the alleged genocide of Armenians, US diplomats make an effort to discourage the US president from using the word genocide during their messages to Armenians in order to avert possible negative reactions from Turkey.

For strategic planners, the predictability of the country regarding deployment plans is of great importance, said another Western diplomat in Ankara.

"Therefore, in the future the US will seek cooperation with Bulgaria and Romania as well as with Iraq, negatively affecting the strategic importance of İncirlik," he said.

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