The 25-member American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council is widely described in the Sunni triangle as the “imported government”. But just as the Turkish parliament – by 358 votes against 183 – backed its government’s decision to send up to 10,000 Turkish troops to Iraq, the Governing Council, in a flagrant clash with US proconsul L Paul Bremer and his masters at the Pentagon, emitted a resounding “no” to the Turkish decision.
This attempt to gain real legitimacy on the part of the “imported government” is moved not only by self-interest, but also by realpolitik reasons. Iyad Allawi, this month’s rotating president of the council, is forcefully discussing the move with Bremer. The council may be deeply unpopular, but its members, especially the Kurds, know exactly how explosive the presence of troops from a Muslim country would be at this juncture of the occupation. Sources tell Asia Times Online that Kurd council members are no less than horrified.
It’s out of the question to have Turkish troops, even transit, in Kurdish territory – which, for that matter, is the only peaceful region in Iraq at the moment. The Kurds cannot forgive the fact that for years the Turkish army has repeatedly attacked forces from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which took refuge in northern Iraq. The PKK agreed to a truce in 1999 after a 15-year separatist war against the Turkish state – but recently declared that the truce is no longer valid.
Moreover, the Iraqi resistance in the Sunni triangle has stressed in the past few weeks that any foreign troops – even from Muslim countries, and in this case without a UN mandate – will also be attacked. The Turkish troops would in principle be deployed in the Sunni triangle.
Adnan Pachachi, former Iraqi foreign minister and also a Governing Council member, laid down the council line: it is opposed to the intervention of any troops from any of Iraq’s neighbors. Pachachi’s reasoning goes beyond the mere struggle of an illegitimate government trying to face the whims of a troubled occupying power. He knows that if the Turks are allowed to go mobile in Iraq, nothing could prevent Iranians from doing the same in the Shi’ite-dominated south. This would be the recipe for a sectarian civil war.
According to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the decision to send troops – for a period of at least one year – will not take effect immediately. Turkish public opinion is still opposed – 64 percent – although not as strongly as before the war. The Turkish parliament voted for the deployment for a number of reasons. It wants to mend its relations with Washington after it refused to participate in the invasion of Iraq, or even allow US soldiers on its soil. It wants to assert Turkish influence in the country. It knows that American counter-terrorism experts are already plotting with their Turkish counterparts to continue to pursue PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq. And most of all, it needs to get a promised US$8.5 billion from the International Monetary Fund to alleviate Turkey’s economic crisis: the loan will effectively only come through if Turkey collaborates in Iraq.
While Turkey dreams of going mobile in Iraq, Iraqis themselves also dream of going mobile in Iraq. Mobile phone licenses were announced this week. Bremer and his Coalition Provisional Authority wanted to send a strong message to the world: look how everything in Iraq is ruled by transparency. Well, not exactly.
Three mobile phone licenses were awarded for a period of only two years. As the British did, Iraq once again was divided into three regions: Kurdistan; the center and the west, including Baghdad; and the south from Najaf to Basra. According to the rules, each operator first has to fully equip the region it was attributed to, before exploring other markets. In late 2005, in theory, everything starts again, because an elected Iraqi government would then choose its own operators.
Asia Cell won in Kurdistan, Orascom in the center and the west, and al-Atheel in the south. According to the Americans, these are respectively Kurdish, Egyptian and Kuwaiti businesses. Not really. The Kuwaitis from al-Atheel are controlled by MTC, which happens to be a subsidiary of the British telecom giant Vodafone. MTC had already equipped the British army in Basra with a small network of mobile phones.
Orascom – which will equip Baghdad (over 5 million people, 8 million in greater Baghdad according to locals) is indeed an Egyptian company, doing solid business in many Arab and African countries. But its key partner is the American Motorola, followed in a very discreet manner by the French Alcatel. Alcatel will in fact be responsible for the core system of the Orascom network (30 percent of the value of the contract). French sources tell Asia Times Online that Alcatel was practically invisible during the bidding process: the Egyptians knew the Americans don’t forgive Alcatel for winning an $80 million contract through which the French company equipped most of the Baghdad telephone exchanges later bombed by the Pentagon.
Alcatel, along with Siemens, Nokia, Ericsson and Lucent, had already applied when Bechtel – in charge of repairing Iraq’s land-based telephone network – was shopping for sub-contractors. The American Lucent won this lucrative contract – without any competition. The Europeans learned it by reading the papers. According to a Scandinavian businessman, “they [the Americans] are managing this country like it’s the 51st American state”.
Iraq’s mobile transparency is exemplary. American senators wanted the standard to be American CDMA. Iraqis were enraged: everybody in the Middle East, as well as Europe and Asia, uses GSM. The presence of a major Iraqi stockholder – essential in theory according to current laws – was also abolished. Everybody had only three weeks to make their offer. All Iraqi businesses were discarded by the selection committee, which was directed by two Britons.
In early September, an Iraqi minister of telecom – Haidar al-Abbadi, a Shi’ite exiled engineer who studied in London – was appointed by the Governing Council. It would be embarrassing for him to announce the mobile licenses just one week after his appointment. So the Americans gave him a few more days to relay the impression he was “supervising” the whole process. But then the minister tried to disallow the whole thing. The Governing Council got into the fray. The Americans played hardball. The result? The Governing Council “minister” was forced to announce the choices that were dictated to him. No wonder cynics expect the Turkish to go mobile in Iraq whenever they – and the Americans – want.