ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey's embattled prime minister on Sunday warned the United States risked becoming bogged down in a long war if it moves ahead with plans to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"Iraq is ... so developed technologically and economically despite the embargo, that it cannot be compared to Afghanistan or Vietnam," Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said in an interview on state-run television.
"It will not be possible for the (United States) to get out of there easily," Ecevit said after a recent visit to the crucial NATO-member country on Iraq's northern border by Deputy Defense Minister Paul Wolfowitz. The Pentagon No. 2 was in Turkey to lobby for it's assistance in any U.S. move against Saddam.
Ecevit said he did not know when the action might occur or what shape it might take. President Bush has said U.S. policy demand's the Iraqi leader's ouster.
He said the United States should consider measures other than a military action in Iraq, but did not elaborate.
"There are other measures to deter the Iraqi regime of being a threat to the region," he said.
Turkish leaders, grappling with political uncertainty and looming early elections, are reluctant to back any U.S. action they fear could hamper the country's economic development and lead to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.
Turkey has long complained that it has lost some $40 billion in trade with Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War and U.N. embargo.
Turkish officials have also repeatedly said they fear that a war in Iraq would encourage Kurds in northern Iraq to create an independent state, which could in turn, encourage Turkey's own Kurdish population to do the same. Kurdish rebels fought Turkish troops for autonomy for 15 years, in a struggle that has cost an estimated 37,000 lives.
"There is a de facto Kurdish state in northern Iraq, we cannot allow this go any further," Ecevit said.
"President Bush is a friend of Turkey. We do not want to hurt his feelings, but it is our duty to let them know our concerns," he said.
Turkish backing is seen as crucial to any action against Iraq. The country was a launching pad for U.S. strikes against Iraq during the Gulf War and still hosts some 50 U.S. warplanes enforcing a no-fly zone over northern Iraq.
Turkey is also in desperate need of foreign loans to recover from a deep financial crisis and many believe that the country has little choice but to agree to U.S. action.
After the Wolfowitz visit Turkish officials suggested Turkey, NATO's only predominantly Muslim member, would go along provided the United States forgave big outstanding military debts and guaranteed there would be no Kurdish state in what is now northern Iraq.