Turks Do Not Back U.S., Poll Finds

Times Staff Writer

Turkey’s public is deeply discontented with the direction the nation is headed, and has become especially displeased with the United States, at a time when the Bush administration needs Turkish military help in any war on Iraq, a study shows.

Fully 83% of Turks in a study released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press are opposed to the use of their country’s bases to strike Iraq. On a visit to Turkey this week, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz won a pledge of access to some bases, but Washington’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally said it was reluctant to permit large numbers of American soldiers in the country.

A look at public opinion sheds light on why the government might fear cooperating too openly with a U.S. push to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Despite the Bush administration’s staunch support for Turkey’s key goal, joining the European Union, the U.S. will have to overcome widespread public mistrust if it hopes to win over the country’s public and its new government, dominated by a party with roots in the Islamist opposition, the poll indicates.


America’s standing in Turkish eyes has plummeted from 52% who viewed the U.S. favorably two years ago to just 30% today. Only 46% of the 1,005 Turkish adults surveyed from July 21 to Aug. 9 thought it would be a good thing if Hussein were removed from power, while 36% said it would be a bad thing.

Asked about U.S. motives, only 34% believe that the U.S. would use military force because it sees Hussein as a threat to stability, while 53% see such a move as part of an American war on Muslim countries the U.S. perceives as unfriendly.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Turkey was an enthusiastic ally of the first Bush administration. The Turks shut their oil pipeline with Iraq, closed their borders and housed a flood of Iraqi refugees.

The Turks were never compensated for their huge losses, said a Washington-based expert on Turkey, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We got paid back -- the Turks got left holding the bag,” the expert said. “Figures vary, but to the tune of $40 to $60 billion.”

Although the Turkish public has a strong dislike for Hussein, many Turks worry that a U.S. campaign to oust him would set the stage for an Iraqi civil war, the creation of a breakaway republic by the Kurds in Iraq’s north, or a renewed exodus of refugees into Turkey, experts said.

Meanwhile, Turks have been enduring a major economic crisis and years of political upheaval.

The Pew poll found that 47% of Turks felt they were better off five years ago.