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Ahmet Necdet Sezer 

Update No: 106 - (23/03/06)

Can Turkey play a mediating role in Iraq?
The dire turn of events in Iraq of course overshadows everything else for Turkish leaders right now. Their own Kurdish population at 13 million is far higher than that in Iraq, four million. The potential for instability in the entire region is obvious after the grim events following the destruction of the holy shrine in Samarra on February 22nd.
Yet at long last the Iraqi Parliament was invited to convene by President Talabani on March 12th, and to elect its speaker and deputy speaker, if they can.
The AKP government of Tayyip Erdogan is trying to play a greater role in the Middle East, not only in the Palestine-Israel conflict, but also in the chaotic situation in Iraq by adopting an equal distance policy towards all sides. But for how long will this policy be sustainable? Will there be an Islamist Iraq under the Shiites, which would be a threat to Turkey? 
Low intensity civil strife has been an ongoing fact of life in Iraq, which has now the propensity to turn into a fully-fledged civil war, basically between the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority, to affect the rest of the ethnic groups, the Kurds, the Turkmens, Assyrians and others.
To help and assist, if possible, the ethnic groups at this critical stage is in the interest of all Iraqis as much as it is to the interest of Turkey. Any civil war in Iraq would be the proverbial house next door on fire with dire consequences for Turkey. Erdogan warned that "if this fire is not extinguished locally it will turn into a global fire." 
Acting Prime Minister of Iraq Ibrahim Jaafari wanted to come to Ankara and he was accordingly invited to pay a visit on February 28th, accompanied by a delegation including his deputy prime minister and the Minister of Communication, Ahmet Chelebi, Minister of Electricity, Muhsin Salash, and some members of the Iraqi Parliament. The overdue debt of Iraq to the Turkish private sector, some US$1.5 billion, flights to Baghdad by Turkish Airlines and Iraq importing more electricity from Turkey were also understood to have been discussed.
The formation of the Iraqi government, which has been delayed since the October 15th, 2005 elections, has now become a priority because sectarian clashes have cost hundreds of innocent lives, taking advantage of the fact that there is no government of consequence in Baghdad, no forceful authority to be imposed, and no force to be used against the insurgents as the police force is dispirited and of no consequence, every group having its own militia.
Therefore, the first item of priority in the Ankara discussions with Prime Minister Jaafari was most likely the urgent formation of the government. In that respect more understanding and tolerance towards the Sunni, Kurdish and Turkmen representations may have been urged for the formation of a broad-based government, rather than the winner-take-all mentality of the Shiite majority.
Prime Minister Jaafari, on the other hand, probably asked Prime Minister Erdogan for his mediation with the White House for a better understanding of the Shiites and not to be concerned about them as Iran's supposed long arm in Iraq.
Turkey has a large scale Sunni majority and a big Alawite minority close to Shiite Iraq, which puts Ankara in an ideal position to play a role of whatever importance or label at the right time for whatever can be done. Ambassador Oguz Çelikkol's recent Iraq visit, which made headlines after his return, was a useful attempt to make soundings on every front in the right direction as Turkey's special envoy for Iraq, giving messages about Turkey's willingness to recognize the Iraqi Kurds. 

Turkish programme for peace and progress
The messages given to the Iraqis, including Prime Minister Jaafari in Ankara, were clear:
Firstly, Iraq's territorial integrity must be preserved. This has been Turkey's position all along, as much as the US position, and is supported by all the Arab states in the region. Partition of Iraq on sectarian lines would be to the detriment of all, including the Iraqis.
Secondly, all the resources of Iraq, territorial and underground, must be common property and must belong to all Iraqis of whatever denomination or ethnic group. That is, oil and natural gas cannot be the monopoly of either the Shiites in the south or the Kurds in the north, disregarding the interests of the Sunnis in the middle where there is no oil.
Thirdly, there should be no ethnic superiority or inferiority among the ethnic groups. This means that the Shiite majority should not impose its will over the Sunni minority, or the Kurds against the Turkmens.
Fourthly, there should be no claim of sovereignty among different sects. This may mean that no individual independence and sovereignty should be declared within the federal state structure. Kirkuk's status must be determined as a special status.
These points of principle are easier said than done. If all the interested parties were ready to agree within these guidelines the Iraq problem could be history tomorrow, but at this moment it looks like wishful thinking. Prime Minster Jaafari while in Ankara was reported to have said when asking for help: "The Americans could not do it. So the Turks must come to Iraq to stabilize the situation," that is, that Turkey should play the role of peacekeeper or peace-maker in Iraq, perhaps under the aegis of NATO or the UN.
Prime Minister Jaafari's visit was undermined by President Talabani, as he was curtly dismissive of Jaafari's right to negotiate, "as Jaafari does not represent Iraq," going so far as to say that "any agreement he makes or signs has no validity because I was not consulted as president about the visit, as I should have been." However, he did not forget to add that "the visit will not adversely affect Iraq's good relations with Turkey." This personal wrangle between Jaafari as the acting prime minister and President Talabani is enough to underline the domestic political infighting, not to say animosities. The present picture in Iraq's chaotic politics with all its personal jealousies is a microcosm of the communal and ethnic conflicts of interest.
This untimely visit, like the Hamas visit, may yet bring dividends, even if not overnight, for Turkey's importance in the region as recognized and perhaps supported by the Arab world, even against the diminished position of Jaafari. It is also rumoured that this visit may be followed by that of another Shiite leader, Mukteda Al Sadr, to Ankara, in the same direction, but perhaps not to the liking of Washington. It was Al Sadr who was pushing hard for Jaafari's prime ministership once again, but his chances are now seen to have further diminished as he resisted Kurdish demands and did not deliver security and much needed public amenities. One Shiite leader after another visiting Ankara may be an indication of history in the making, which may denote the expectations of the Iraqi Shiites for Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gül to play a role in Iraq with the Sunnis, and even with the Kurds, as a voice of moderation and mediation.
For third parties as outsiders to meddle openly or clandestinely in Iraq's chaotic state bordering on civil war is nothing new but Turkey was for centuries the colonial power here. Iraqis themselves are fighting each other, Muslim Iraqi against Muslim brethren are savagely killing each other for strong sectarian reasons, and this has got to be stopped. The Turkish practice and example of religious and sectarian tolerance is needed in Iraq as a secular model to be emulated. In fact, ironically, under the Saddam regime there was a semblance of it with no record of sectarian clashes of any importance.

A Pandora's Box opened up by US
The US ambassador to Iraq recently confessed that the US, by toppling Saddam, has opened a Pandora's Box. Nearly 60 per cent of Americans now think, rightly, that the US intervention in Iraq was a mistake and many Turks have thought so from the beginning, which is mistakenly interpreted as anti-Americanism.
It is true that Iraq has become the training ground of international terrorism supporting one side or the other. It is no secret that al-Qaeda elements are supporting the Sunni minority that have become pariahs to the present rulers of Iraq as a consequence of the downfall of Saddam. It is also evident that the fundamentalist hard line al-Qaeda elements do not even consider the Shiites as Muslims but as heretics. Hence why they were prepared to blow up their holiest shrine in Samarra.
Whether Turkey's greater role in this Middle East imbroglio is a real possibility or a pipe dream, only time will tell.

Erdogan rules out crisis with Army 
Any reforming Turkish Prime minister has to walk a tight-rope. He cannot alienate the army, more especially at a time like this in Iraq; but nor can he estrange the devout Moslems, more especially when he heads the Islamicist party, as does the present one.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled out tensions between his Islamist-rooted government and the influential military following accusations that the army's number two acted outside the law in the fight against Kurdish rebels. 
A prosecutor dropped a bombshell when he called for a probe into land forces commander Yasar Büyükanit on suspicion he might have been linked to rogue elements in the army seeking to stir tensions in the mainly Kurdish southeast and derail Turkey's bid to join the European Union. 
The main opposition and the media have speculated that the prosecutor acted under the influence of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) to discredit the staunchly secularist general, expected to become chief of staff this summer. 
"Turkey is no longer a construction site for crisis engineers. No jobs left for such engineers," Erdogan said in a televised speech at an AKP conclave. He praised the army as "one of our most important institutions" and said the government would respect its hierarchy and rules of promotion.

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Loans take Akbank to US$1bn record profit 

Akbank, a leading Turkish bank, has exceeded US$1 billion in profit for the first time in its history due to the boom in individual loans, New Europe reported. 
Akbank put aside 640 million new Liras of this amount for taxes and its net profit increased to 1.438 billion Liras. This amount, which means a boost of 40.9 per cent in comparison with the previous year, corresponds to US$1.07 billion. Akbank, with this profit, will reportedly pay 0.30 Lira cash dividend and 0.22 Lira non-paid-up shares for every share of one Lira-nominal value. Akbank General Manager, Zafer Kurtul, assessing the bank's 2005 balance results emphasised the bank's successful performance in credits was mainly effective on its profitability. Kurtul said the total loans increased by 71 per cent. The increase in the credit amount was related to the increase in the individual loans and loans of the small and medium size (KOBI) companies, the manager explained. Akbank's KOBI loans increased by 116 per cent in comparison with the previous year and reached 7.6 billion Liras in 2005. The share of the individual loans and KOBI loans within the total amount of loans rose to 65 per cent. The ratio of problematic loans is at a low level of 1.6 per cent despite all these developments. Akbank deposits increased by 58 per cent and rose to 31.451 billion Liras and an increase of 156.6 per cent took place in the Lira deposit. "This increase in the deposit is a sign of our customers' confidence in our bank. I thank all our customers, staff and share holders for our successful results," Akbank's top manager concluded.

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Baku-Erzerum pipeline to be launched in 2006 

Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan plan to launch the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipeline by the end of 2006, Turkish Prime Minister, Tayip Erdogan, said in Istanbul after talks with Georgian Prime Minister, Zurab Nogaideli, New Europe reported.
The Georgian prime minister was in Turkey on a two-day working visit. The Turkish prime minister said delivering Turkmen gas via the Caspian corridor was the most important task of Turkmen-Georgian cooperation. Besides, the first oil has already been pumped on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline into Georgia and is due to reach Ceyhan soon. The Georgian-Turkish business council in Istanbul also discussed prospects for building the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railroad. Georgia and Azerbaijan are also participating in the railroad project. "We would also like China and Kazakstan to participate in these projects," Erdogan went on to say. He emphasised the railroad should ensure speedy and safe delivery of freights. It will also become a vital part in the Asia-Europe transportation corridor.

Turkey-Russia discuss cooperation in gas sector 

Further cooperation between Russia and Turkey in the gas sector was discussed during the visit of a Gazprom delegation led by the company's head, Alexei Miller, and Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister, Mehmet Hilmi Guler, ANSAmed reported.
In particular, the meeting focused on Russian gas supplies and construction of underground gas storage facilities. The question of implementing projects of gas transit through the Turkish territory to the markets of third countries, to Greece, to South Italy, Israel and other countries of Middle East was also discussed. The parties agreed to examine the possibility of establishing a joint enterprise to implement the projects. Miller and Guler also discussed a possibility of Gazprom participation in selling gas to ultimate consumers in Turkey, development of gas transmitting and gas distributing infrastructures in the country.

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