MARYLAND PUBLIC TELEVISION: Where exactly in Turkey are you?
DOUGLAS BIRCH: I'm in the wild Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey, near where Syria, Iraq, and Turkey meet the border area. It's on the Tigris River, which I can see from my hotel here, and the 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 hour drive by car?
DB: If the border were open right now, I could get in a car and drive across the border in about an hour or 45 minutes maybe and be in northern Iraq. The Turkish army has closed the border, to reporters anyway; it's been closed legally for years, but it's been possible in the past to get across. Now security is extremely tight here.
MPT: I was reading reports that some of the networks are pulling their correspondents 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 is controlled by the Kurdish minority in Iraq; it's not under the control of Baghdad. It's relatively a safe place to be, compared to Iraq itself. It's an important story because the Kurdish minority in Iraq is deeply divided among itself, and it's also at odds with the government in neighboring Turkey, and there could also be some trouble with Iran. So, there is a danger that in the event of war, the same thing could happen here that happened in Yugoslavia, the area could dissolve into factional fighting.
MPT: I was reading about all the mass protests that they've been having in Turkey for the last several weeks. It seems pretty clear to me that most of the people in that country are vehemently opposed to a U.S.-led attack on 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 the other countries are not democratic, and public demonstrations are tightly controlled for the most part. So that this is the one country where people can express their opinions more or less freely, there are restrictions here on free speech, but people can protest in general. So that's what you're seeing. There's just an overwhelming opposition to it. Even among Kurds here, and of course the Kurds in Iraq have been among Saddam Hussein's biggest 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 on both sides of the border.
MPT: Turkey did not allow the U.S. to use the country as a staging area for a possible attack on Iraq, which of course seems likely now. Do you think that there will be some consequences for that action?
DB: Well, certainly Turkey is going to lose the aid package. The U.S. is not going to pay the loans and grants and is not going to give it the loan credits 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 suffering right 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 only thing is a final ultimatum for Saddam Hussein?
DB: I expect something to happen here very soon. I think that it's clear that the United States is going to be making a move very soon, and everyone in the region is holding their breath to see what happens next.