When western forces entered Afghanistan nearly 10 years ago, people were talking of it being over in days, and people said the same in Iraq. But a million have died and a civilisation has as good as collapsed. We don't want to see a similar picture in Libya, says Turkish prime minister Erdogan.
By Seumas Milne
27 March 2011
The Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signalled that Turkey is ready to act as a mediator to broker an early ceasefire in Libya, as he warned that a drawn-out conflict risked turning the country into a "second Iraq" or "another Afghanistan" with devastating repercussions both for Libya and the Nato states leading the intervention.
The Turkish government, which is playing an increasingly important regional role and has the second largest armed forces within Nato, has been at the centre of the argument within the alliance over Libya, publicly clashing with the French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Turkey opposed any outside military involvement before it began – Erdogan described the idea of Nato intervention as a "nonsense" — but has now agreed to participate in a non-combat role in the wake of the UN security resolutions and Arab League appeal.
His public challenge to US, British and French direct military intervention is likely to deepen Nato dissension and alarm western leaders who hoped Turkey had now acquiesced in the thrust of the Libya mission.
"We have been opposed to any unilateral action and we could never accept appeals such as that by the French minister for a new crusade," Erdogan told the Guardian, in a reference to comments made by France's interior minister, Claude Guéant. His government would carry out its obligations under UN resolutions. "But for Turkey, it's out of the question to shoot at Libyan people or drop bombs on the Libyan people," Erdogan said in reference to the emerging "no-drive zone" policy. "Turkey's role will be to withdraw from Libya as soon as possible" and "restore the unity and integrity of the country based on the democratic demands of the people", he added.
It was vital, Erdogan said, that "this deployment should not be carried out for Libya's oil. Of course there will be a price for these actions and no one can guarantee that Libya won't have to pay a price."
Repeatedly drawing parallels with Iraq and Afghanistan – which senior Turkish officials regard as a serious risk if there is a military stalemate – Erdogan said Iraq was "still paying a price" 20 years after the Gulf war of 1991. "I'm afraid we could see another Afghanistan or a second Iraq emerging. When western forces entered Afghanistan nearly 10 years ago, people were talking of it being over in days, and people said the same in Iraq. But a million have died and a civilisation has as good as collapsed. We don't want to see a similar picture in Libya."
If the conflict was prolonged, the Turkish prime minister warned of a backlash against countries now carrying out air strikes. "It will be devastating for the entire Libyan people, and the repercussions will not be restricted to Libya, but will have a direct impact on those countries that have intervened."
Erdogan added: "There is a civil war in Libya and we have to bring that to an end."