Ankara did not commit troops either to the war or, later, for the occupation. It had also refused to allow US troops to use its territory as a springboard for the invasion.

However, it did support the operation and continued to provide economic assistance.

 

Now, many in Turkey feel it is payback time.

 

Turkey did not send troops to Iraq but it backed the US effort,” a spokesman for one Istanbul brokerage told Aljazeera.net.

“Now it is looking for some return for that support and to make up for the losses it has incurred due to the war and years of sanctions.”

 

Oil sales

 

Before the war broke out in March this year, Turkey had built its trade with Iraq to up to one billion dollars, as compared to $300 million in 2001.


Much of this pre-war trade consisted of sanctions-busting oil sales through northern Iraq going one way, and Turkish consumer goods and basic foodstuffs going the other.

 

However, trade levels were nowhere near the $4 billion enjoyed prior to the 1990-91 Gulf War - something Turkey sees as its right as a US ally to redress.

 

Many Turks feel it is payback time

Already, trade from the provinces bordering Iraq, mostly in agricultural products, has reached $78 million, more than double the figure for last year. 

 

Indeed, the hallmarks of Turkey's interests in Iraq are already there across the war-torn country. 

 

If you watch any television programme from the streets of downtown Baghdad or the cities of northern Iraq, the proof is often there in neon and garishly coloured plastic billboards with the names of Turkish companies that hope to cash in on the reconstruction.

 

One sector that Turkey is looking to cash in on is construction, something of a Turkish speciality in the region.

Turkish firms have earned more than $20 billion in the past decade through building contracts in Pakistan, central Asia, Libya, Russia and its former satellites and more recently Afghanistan.

 

Turkish firms are already set to build two hospitals in Iraq, and are seeking further contracts.

 

Reconstruction

 

With much of Iraq's infrastructure damaged or at best run down, Turkish firms hope that their experience and the advantage of being at Iraq’s doorstep will help them win those contracts.

 

Turkish firms are also looking to get into Iraq’s energy market.

Karadeniz Toptan Elektrik Ticaret AS, based in Turkey’s Black Sea region, is already supplying electricity to northern Iraq via its power station in the southeastern province of Silopi.

 

Much of Turkey's pre-war trade
with Iraq was in oil

Private firms and state officials have been dispatched to Iraq to assist in rebuilding the country’s damaged energy infrastructure.

 

To facilitate this increased flow of trade, Turkey wants to open a second border gate with Iraq.

 

Currently, all land trade passes through the Habur gate into northern Iraq.

In the past, the gate had been a sore point with Ankara, with Iraq’s Kurdish groups imposing their own duties on goods entering the country.

 

Turkey wants to extend its investments,” says Kursad Tuzmen, the Turkish minister responsible for foreign trade.  “Opening of the gate will be a positive development in reviving trade.”

 

Syrian help

 

Ankara is also to work with Damascus to reopen the rail link between Turkey and Iraq, which runs through Syria. Besides increasing the carrying capacity, it would further cut the northern Iraqi Kurds out of the trade equation.

 

Tuzmen is a keen supporter of Turkey staking a major claim in Iraq's reconstruction. He sees the opportunities there as a means to make up for the falling long-term orders for exports to Europe and elsewhere.

 

“Our goal is not short-term trade," says Tuzmen, "but to promote Turkish products to the Iraqis. Our trade is not only for the present, but to have a place in the future Iraqi market.” 

 

“Our goal is not short-term trade, but to promote Turkish products to the Iraqis"

Kurzad Tuzmen,
Minister for Foreign Trade, Turkey

This assertion was backed up on 3 December by the Minister’s department announcing there would be a concerted push to promote bilateral trade with Iraq.

 

Reaffirming Ankara’s desire for a second border post, Foreign Trade Undersecretary Tuncer Kayalar said that talks on a formal trade treaty would open in January.

 

Delegation

 

Negotiations are continuing on allowing Turkish banks to operate in Iraq. Furthermore, Turkey would send a delegation of building contractors to meet Iraqi officials in Baghdad shortly, Kayalar said.

 

“We are continuing efforts to further improve bilateral relations achieved after the war,” he added. “In this respect, the documents signed and talks held with senior Iraqi officials in late November and December during their visits to our country will determine the future roadmap.”

 

Jelal Talabani, the leader of the Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), fanned the hopes of Turkish firms to win a place in the Iraqi market.

 

“Most of Iraq is free of chaos and problems,” assured the PUK leader. “For example, there is chaos in only eight of 88 areas of Baghdad. Turkish firms should feel safe to invest in Iraq,” he said.

 

At the height of the debate over whether Turkey would send troops to Iraq, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan had said if forces were to be deployed, they would go to help rebuild the country and not as invaders.

  

The troops were never sent, but Turkey’s commercial invasion of Iraq may have truly begun.