Ask anyone in Turkey why the United States should not go to war in Iraq in the near future, and the answer will almost certainly focus on the recent past.
Turks speak of the economic devastation caused by the 1991 Persian Gulf War: how tourism revenue dried up, how a valuable oil pipeline from Iraq was shut down, how truckers who made their living on cross-border trade were idled -- or resorted to illegal smuggling. They speak of a surge in terrorism by ethnic Kurdish separatists in southeastern Turkey. And they recount Washington's promises to compensate Turkey for its losses, and how most of the cash was never delivered.
"Nobody wants war," said Lokman Altunel, 40, owner of the Murat restaurant, whose family comes from the eastern province of Siirt. "People are still suffering from the last war."
At the Naturel barber shop across the street, shop owner Mevlut Ozgun, 33, said he doesn't remember personally suffering from the war 12 years ago, but he knows that oil prices here soared when the oil pipeline was shut. "All of the problems we now suffer economically started from that period on," said Ozgun, who added: "The U.S. is an ally of Turkey -- we know that. We are hoping they can reach a fair deal that can protect us from the heavy losses in this war."
With opinion polls showing that 95 percent of Turks oppose another U.S.-led war in Iraq, Turkey's government has bargained intently with the United States over the terms under which U.S. troops could be deployed here. U.S. military planners are counting on positioning as many as 40,000 U.S. troops at Turkish bases and, in the event of war, sending them into Iraq to open a northern front. In return, Turkish officials want billions of dollars in aid and loans to compensate for the impact of the war on Turkey's economy. They have taken negotiations down to the wire, leaving U.S. ships carrying tanks and other hardware waiting outside Turkish ports.
Officials on both sides say an agreement is at hand and that the final package could be sent to parliament for approval as early as Tuesday. Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said today that his cabinet would take up the issue but refused to discuss when the government would seek parliamentary approval. The leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters today: "As far as I know, a positive answer from the United States has not yet come to the proposals [Turkey] has made. These demands included political, military, and economic fields. When there is a positive response to these requests, Turkey will do its responsibility."
The often tense negotiations have underscored how leaders of the ruling party, caught between the demands of their most important strategic ally and the concerns of their citizens, have given great weight to public opinion.
"For the government to go to parliament, it needs a sound basis. And not only parliament, but public opinion has to be convinced that we are going into this cooperation [with the United States] with security for Turkey," said a senior advisor to the government, which came to power in November with an electoral landslide.
Security for Turkey means financial aid to cushion the economic blow a war is expected to cause, and history lends weight to those expectations. Before the Gulf War, Iraq was Turkey's top trading partner. But for six years afterward, until the start of the U.N.-sponsored oil-for-food program for Iraq, trade between the two countries dropped to virtually nothing. Officials say 50,000 tanker trucks went idle -- trucks that could each provide an income for three families, mostly in the hard-hit southeastern region closest to Iraq. Turkey's economic growth rate dropped from 5 percent before the war to just 1 percent afterward.
Despite promises made before the war by the United States and its allies, Turkey received scant compensation for its losses. "Ninety-nine percent of the Turkish nation felt betrayed," said Egemen Bagis, a member of parliament from the ruling party. "And that is the reason we have 95 percent against a war."
"Turkey was promised a lot, but nothing was delivered -- because it was a promise, with nothing in writing," Bagis said.
This time, Turkey has insisted on some form of written guarantee. "We have a saying in Turkish: 'If you burn your tongue drinking hot milk, you will blow on even the yogurt before you eat it,' " Bagis said. "Well, we are blowing on the yogurt. We have seen this movie before, and we don't like it."
Erdogan, who until recently was barred from elective office but looks set to become prime minister after a parliamentary by-election in March, said in a television interview late Friday: "Unfortunately, the U.S. did not keep its promises then. Now we say that in international relations, all these issues should be defined in a written document.
"President Bush's words are valid and respected in the U.S. Congress. We respect them too. But in terms of international law, a document should exist."