Turkey, Israel join U.S. war plan

MANAMA (BAHRAIN) DEC.25. Turkey, Israel and the U.S. appear to be finalising plans for concerted action that could become crucial for unseating the regime of the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein.

Under this plan, revolving mainly around northern Iraq, the Turkish military, supported by the ethnic Kurds, is expected to play a leading role.

Two significant developments in the last few days are likely to influence the opening of a northern front against Iraq.

First, the Israel's Chief of Staff, Moshe Yalon, held detailed discussions with the Turkish army chief, Gen. Hilimi Ozkok, on Tuesday. Discussions apparently revolved around sychronising ground-based missile and air defences to ward off the perceived threat of Iraqi missies that might be used to deliver chemical warheads.

Both sides also reportedly discussed coordination of their air and naval forces. Israel, Turkey and the U.S. are set to hold "Reliant Mermaid'' naval exercises in international waters off the coast of Israel soon.

Second, the chief of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Jalal Talabani, held talks in the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. He is expected to be joined by his one time rival Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) on Wednesday.

Analysts pointed out that the broad elements of forging another version of "northern alliance" that could unroll under the Turkish leadership and the U.S. protection from the Kurdish highlands in the direction of the Iraqi oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk was now under active deliberation.

Diplomatic sources said that the Turks and the Kurds, under the shadow of the U. S., might be discussing mutual assurances that would bring them together against the present regime in Iraq.

Turkey would like the Kurds to accommodate some of its core concerns. For instance, Turkey has historically sought control over the oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.

In order to assert itself in northern Iraq, Turkey would also want a safe passage for its forces through Kurdish territory. Besides, Turkey is expected to demand a commitment by the United States that Kurds will not declare independence once regime change in Baghdad has been accomplished.

The Kurds, on their part would want an undertaking from Turkey that it would respect their autonomy in northern Iraq. Besides, they are likely to demand a fair share of the revenue of oil that is taken out of Mosul and Kirkuk.

Mr. Talabani's mission to Ankara has acquired some urgency because of the military advances made by the pro-Iraq Kurdish elements on the strategic land route to Kirkuk. The Ansar al Islami, a group opposed to the mainstream Kurdish organisations is occupying key portions of the Halabja-Suleimaniyeh highway leading to Kirkuk. The continued occupation of this route could hasten possible Turkish military intervention in this zone in the coming days. Once a broad understanding involving Turkey, the U.S. and the Kurdish parties is reached, efforts to broaden the Turkish-Kurdish front in northern Iraq is likely to gather momentum. To achieve this, the Turkomans, another ethnic group concentrated around Mosul are likely to be wooed vigorously in the coming days.

With the participation of the Turkomans, the regime of Mr. Hussein could lose its grip not only on the Kurdish highlands in the north, but also in parts of central Iraq.