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Turkey's Gulf War Gamble May Be Paying Off

The Kurdish refugees massing on its border are drawing more Western attention to Turkey than it attracted in nearly four decades as NATO's southern anchor. Indeed, for years, Turgut Ozal, Turkey's free-enterprise-loving President, has been trumpeting Ankara's crucial role as Western democracy's strongest outpost in the Mideast. How Ozal manages the refugee crisis may determine whether he can fulfill his growing ambition to make Turkey into a regional power.

Ozal is backing European proposals to create secure zones in northern Iraq for fleeing Kurds. Besides humanitarian concerns, his aim is to head off social turbulence and heavy economic burdens on Turkey from a refugee pileup along its border. Beyond that, protected enclaves for refugees would be a step toward autonomy for Iraqi Kurds. Although the U. S. is concerned about fragmentation of Iraq, Ozal is confident that Turkey, with 15 million Kurds in its population of 57 million, could exert strong influence over a Kurdish province in Iraq. That would further enhance Turkey's growing regional clout.