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Turkey offers the US a path out of Iraq

Withdrawal via Turkey could test some of Obama's campaign promises.

A U.S. refuelling plane flies over the dome of a mosque to return to Incirlik air base near the southern Turkish city of Adana Nov. 26, 2001. (Fatih Saribas/Reuters)

ISTANBUL — The sprawling Incirlik Air Base in remote southern Turkey serves as the passageway for 70 percent of the air cargo bound for American troops in Iraq. By land, the Habur Gate — a dust-blown checkpoint — is used to ship construction materials, food, fuel and other non-lethal items from Turkey into Iraq.

As the U.S. prepares to pull out of Iraq, Turkey is likely to play an important role, both as a strategic ally and as a route through which to transfer troops and equipment out of the country.

Turkey has unique advantages over prospective alternative exit points in Kuwait and Jordan. It is less likely than its counterparts to be hostile, and is advantageously located to remove troops and materials north of Baghdad.

“Turkey is going to play a pivotal role in the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq,” said Stephen Flanagan, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

But several issues stand in the way of a smooth Turkey-aided U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, not least some apparent last-minute maneuvering by elements in the Ankara government to force the Obama administration's hand on the sensitive issue of the Armenian genocide.

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to officially designate the 1915 killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as genocide. Many Armenian-Americans, who are descendants of the victims and survivors, have long sought such a declaration.

But as president, Obama is hesitating, fearful of alienating Turkey when U.S. officials badly want its help.

The Turks have warned that an official U.S. statement would imperil Turkey's help not only on Iraq, but other security issues such as Afghanistan, and Iran.

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