MARYLAND PUBLIC TELEVISION: Where exactly in Turkey are you?
DOUGLAS BIRCH: I'm in the wild Kurdish regions ofsoutheastern Turkey, near where Syria, Iraq, and Turkey meet the borderarea. It's on the Tigris River, which I can see from my hotel here, andthe Cudi Mountains are to the east.
MPT: And you were saying if you wanted to make your way into northern Iraq,which is something that you are attempting to do, it would be about an hourdrive by car?
DB: If the border were open right now, I could get in a car and driveacross the border in about an hour or 45 minutes maybe and be in northernIraq. The Turkish army has closed the border, to reporters anyway; it'sbeen closed legally for years, but it's been possible in the past to getacross. Now security is extremely tight here.
MPT: I was reading reports that some of the networks are pulling theircorrespondents out of Baghdad, but you're trying to get into Iraq?
DB: Yes, I'm just trying to get closer to the story. Northern Iraq iscontrolled by the Kurdish minority in Iraq; it's not under the control ofBaghdad. It's relatively a safe place to be, compared to Iraq itself. It'san important story because the Kurdish minority in Iraq is deeply dividedamong itself, and it's also at odds with the government in neighboringTurkey, and there could also be some trouble with Iran. So, there is adanger that in the event of war, the same thing could happen here thathappened in Yugoslavia, the area could dissolve into factional fighting.
MPT: I was reading about all the mass protests that they've been having inTurkey for the last several weeks. It seems pretty clear to me that most ofthe people in that country are vehemently opposed to a U.S.-led attackon Iraq.
DB: I think that's the reason you hear so much about protests in Turkey,because Turkey is the only democratic country that borders Iraq. All theother countries are not democratic, and public demonstrations are tightlycontrolled for the most part. So that this is the one country where peoplecan express their opinions more or less freely, there are restrictions hereon free speech, but people can protest in general. So that's what you'reseeing. There's just an overwhelming opposition to it. Even among Kurdshere, and of course the Kurds in Iraq have been among Saddam Hussein'sbiggest victims. But the fear among the Kurds and here in Turkey is that,if there is a war it will cause more problems for the Kurdish minority onboth sides of the border.
MPT: Turkey did not allow the U.S. to use the country as a staging area fora possible attack on Iraq, which of course seems likely now. Do you thinkthat there will be some consequences for that action?
DB: Well, certainly Turkey is going to lose the aid package. The U.S. isnot going to pay the loans and grants and is not going to give it the loancredits that were going to be worth from $15 billion to $28 billion,and that's actually going to be a big problem for Turkey which is sufferingright now, economically.
MPT: It looks as though the diplomatic window has closed and that the U.N.will not be seeking a vote on a new resolution. Do you think now the onlything is a final ultimatum for Saddam Hussein?
DB: I expect something to happen here very soon. I think that it's clearthat the United States is going to be making a move very soon, and everyonein the region is holding their breath to see what happens next.