When the Turkish parliament voted last week to allow the United States to upgrade military bases and ports, Goksal Kucukali, a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party, announced on television afterward that he had defied party leaders and voted no.
The appearance was startling not only because parliament's deliberations were supposed to be kept secret, but also because strict party discipline is a hallmark of politics in Turkey. With the cameras rolling, Kucukali went even further: If Justice and Development backs deployment of U.S. troops in Turkey in a vote expected about Tuesday, he said, he would resign from the party.
"What I am saying is, please do not drag us into war," Kucukali said in an interview, explaining why he had disobeyed his party and voted against the United States, and would do so again. "Our people are already hungry. There are already thousands of suffering people. We say no not because we are against the U.S.A., but because we care for our people. Wherever we go, the whole nation says no to war."
Kucukali's position reflects a deep antiwar sentiment among the Turkish public and among legislators who voted in favor of the U.S. base renovations on the order of their leaders. The request was approved in the 550-member parliament 308 to 193, with others absent or abstaining. By many estimates, between 30 and 50 members of the ruling party, which controls 362 seats, joined Kucukali in defying their leaders.
What is surprising, some analysts said, is that even more members did not defect. A poll released Sunday showed that 94 percent of the Turks surveyed opposed a U.S. war against Iraq, Turkey's neighbor to the south, and only 2.5 percent said Turkey should support the United States by offering military facilities and forces.
With that level of opposition, analysts and politicians here said, the Turkish parliament, whose approval is constitutionally required before foreign troops can be based here, could vote against admitting U.S. troops or delay the vote. A rejection of a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq, authorizing use of force, could complicate the vote for some Turkish lawmakers, who insist that any war have "international legitimacy." But many analysts said approval seems likely.
For the Pentagon, the stakes are high. U.S. war planners have said that a northern front against Iraq, which shares a 218-mile border with Turkey, is considered vital to draw Iraqi forces away from the south and protect oil fields in northern Iraq.
Lawmakers said that before last week's vote, they met with Prime Minister Abdullah Gul and Recep Tayyib Erdogan, the Justice and Development leader, who ordered them to vote in favor of allowing the United States to renovate military bases and ports. The two leaders promised U.S. economic aid with written guarantees. But for many members, impassioned pleas that Turkey was over a barrel were even more important. They had explored options for peace and would continue to do so, they said, but Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, was not complying with U.N. resolutions and the United States seemed committed to a war.
According to five lawmakers who attended private sessions with Gul and Erdogan, the pair argued that the United States was a strategic ally and the relationship had to be preserved. Turkey was not going to fight a war against Iraq, they promised, but they had to prepare the country. If the United States was going to fight no matter what, they said, Turkey had to make sure it protected its security concerns in northern Iraq, particularly to prevent a rush of refugees into southeastern Turkey and to quash any attempt by Iraqi Kurds to create an independent state.
Many members of parliament "felt that, against their consciences, they had to vote to allow the United States to enlarge the bases," said Fehmi Koru, a leading newspaper columnist with close ties to the ruling party who, like other journalists, was banned from reporting the details of the vote last Thursday. "I met with many of them, and they were really hesitant -- not just individual members of parliament, but even ministers I spoke with were not happy or comfortable with what they were going to do."
Several economic and military sticking points must be ironed out before the vote on U.S. troops. Some involve troop levels -- the number of U.S. soldiers that would be allowed in Turkey and the number of Turkish soldiers to be stationed in northern Iraq -- and others involve command issues. A U.S. special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said last week that any Turkish troops sent to Iraq would be under U.S. command. But Erdogan earlier this week dismissed the idea of foreign command of Turkish troops as "humiliating" and "insulting."
Many analysts and politicians here agreed that because of the long and close military ties between the United States and Turkey, the military issues would likely be the easiest to resolve quickly. More difficult, they said, are outstanding issues surrounding the size and guarantees of an economic package to compensate Turkey for what it would spend in any war and to protect it from losses resulting from a conflict.
Previously, officials have said the package of loans, grants and other aid could be as much as $14 billion. But several Turkish lawmakers and media accounts in recent days have termed that amount inadequate, saying the price tag could balloon to as much as $25 billion.
More important than the size of the package, officials here say, is how the U.S. will guarantee its delivery. Increasingly, lawmakers, other Turkish officials and opinion-shapers are demanding action by the U.S. Congress to guarantee that money promised by the Bush administration is actually given. The debate reflects distrust by Turks who say the United States promised economic relief during the 1991 Persian Gulf War but broke its word.
According to Egemen Bagis, an adviser to Gul and a member of parliament, U.S. economic commitments "better be made public, better be very convincing, and better be before the 18th," when the vote is expected. Officials familiar with the negotiations said Turkey's estimates of its exposure were much higher than independent market estimates, which put the figure between $4 billion and $15 billion. A diplomatic source noted that Bush cannot guarantee the congressional action that the Turks seek.
Negotiations are continuing over what kind of assurances the United States can give to protect the postwar territorial integrity of Iraq and to prevent any move by Kurds in the country's north to break away and declare independence. Turkish officials are also seeking U.S. guarantees to protect Iraq's ethnic Turks and Iraqi oil fields during and after any war.