ANKARA, TURKEY, JAN. 31 -- Turkish President Turgut Ozal scaled back prewar predictions of an easy allied victory over Iraq, saying "two months" or longer might be needed.
In an interview, Ozal denied "surprise" at Iraq's ability to absorb allied punishment from the air, noting in an interview Iraq's accumulation "over the last 10 years of a sizable military machine" to explain Baghdad's resistance.
A week before the allies launched bombing raids against Iraq, Ozal told the Washington Times that "if there is a war, it will be a short one . . . certainly not many weeks."
Ozal brushed aside as "unnecessary opposition discussion" complaints about Turkey's authorization of Incirlik air base for U.S. bombing raids. Turkish opinion polls, the press and opposition political parties have denounced the decision.
Ozal expressed doubts that President Saddam Hussein would agree to withdraw from Kuwait in return for an end of hostilities, as was proposed jointly by the United States and Soviet Union on Tuesday. This presumably would leave Saddam in power. Many Turks, Iranians and Syrians share the hope of Iraqi exiles that Saddam will be ousted in the war.
Speaking at the presidential palace, Ozal argued that Saddam was condemned to fight on. The president said the Iraqis had "no chance" of winning the war.
The fighting now could last "two months" or be of "unknown duration," he said. He said he based this on review of interrogations of about 600 Iraqi defectors. He said many were "so frightened of Saddam that I think he's brainwashed them."
Ozal said he doubted that Saddam would halt the war now and risk facing war crimes charges, nor could he pay reparations to a restored Kuwaiti government.
The Turkish leader said that 10 days ago an Iranian emissary had intimated that Tehran had agreed to allow Iraqi civilian aircraft to sit out the war in Iran but had said nothing about authorizing warplanes to do so -- as has occurred this week. Ozal said Iran "will probably keep them as reparations," which Tehran has said was its due from the 1980-88 war initiated by Iraq.
Turkey has been armed with defensive Patriot missiles at Incirlik, where U.S. planes are stationed, and at eastern Diyarbakir, where other NATO fighters have relocated to defend this NATO member state. Ozal said Turkey would "exercise restraint" should Iraqi Scud missiles be fired at either base, avoiding tit-for-tat retaliation.
Discussing ideas for a postwar settlement, Ozal ruled out suggestions here that Turkey attempt to recover the oil-producing regions of northern Iraq, around Kirkuk and Mosul, once part of the Ottoman Empire. He said that Europe and Japan, being dependent on Middle East oil, should participate in a regional "Marshall Plan" to develop oil, gas and water pipelines to tie the often rival countries together and resolve conflicts by economic interdependence.
Ozal reiterated Turkish opposition to an independent Kurdish state in Iraq, which could provide a precedent for ethnic Kurdish regions of eastern Turkey. Marxist guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers' Party have been fighting there for just such a goal since 1984. He renewed charges that both Syria and Iraq were backing the rebels.
Ozal also showed no enthusiasm for a return in Iraq to 1970 accords under which Baghdad granted Iraqi Kurds autonomy. Ozal noted that Iraq's ruling Baath Party had later reneged on those arrangementshad been instrumental in reneging on those arrangements, Ozal, and said only democracy could guarantee the estimated 4 million Iraqi Kurds their rights.
The Turkish president said he "pitied Iraqi Kurds," contrasting Saddam's use of poison gas against them in 1988 with what he said was favorable treatment of Kurds in Turkey -- "the only democratic state" in the region.
Alluding to the government's recent recision of a 1983 law that forbade the use of the Kurdish language, Ozal said the change was in keeping with Turkey's international obligations as a signatory to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe treaty last November.
Opposed by the military, the decision was facilitated by a decline in rebel Kurdish operations. This allowed Ozal to argue that the government was not giving in to pressure from Western governments critical of Turkish violations of Kurdish human rights.
Ozal reiterated the official stand that nearly completed giant irrigation and dam complexes in southeast Turkey would attract Kurds from the rugged mountains to an urbanized life, ensuring them better conditions than in areas under rebel domination. He said he was the first Turkish politician to use the long banned term "Kurd" officially, instead of "mountain Turks." He also took credit for rescinding Turkey's opposition to taking in refugees, especially Kurds, from its southern neighbors. He said all refugees from Iraq would be welcomed.