Between Iraq and a hard place: the run-up to the war in Iraq left Turkey with few friends.

Author:Gorvett, Jon

Welcomed into office last November by a wave of approval that rippled from the financial markets to the city ghettos, Turkey's ruling party has since seen more than its fair share of slings and arrows.

Accused of inexperience at best and incompetence at worst, the run-up to war in Iraq left it with few friends around the world, and a battered looking domestic leadership. Yet for all that, at home it has been praised for its democratic attitude and close attention to popular sentiment. "It may even be," one commentary in a leading Turkish newspaper put it, "that it has shown itself to be unlike any other Turkish party."

But the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has certainly never been run of the mill. Led by Recip Tayyip Erdogan, the former mayor of Istanbul, it managed to perform the remarkable political feat of reestablishing broad support for a party of the pro-Islamist tradition, following the debacle of the 1997 `soft coup'. Back then, the staunchly secular military manoeuvred the AKP's ancestor, the Welfare Party (RP), out of power. The RP was subsequently banned, with the Virtue Party (FP) then taking up a similar pro-Islamic mantle. However, as the successor to the banned RP, the FP was itself then banned, but not before a split had emerged. Out of this, the moderate AKP was established, along with the traditionalist Saadet Party (SP), led by former FP leader Recai Kutan.

Both parties went into the 2002 election, yet only one emerged--the AKP, which swept to power with a staggering majority.

Due to a previous conviction for political crimes, Erdogan was unable to stand in the elections. In his place, Abdullah Gul became prime minister--to be immediately confronted by a string of major crises.

Deadlines on the Cyprus issue and Turkey's EU membership bid came up within a matter of weeks, with both requiring the application of great political and diplomatic skills. As it was, Gul and Erdogan--who was acting as a second, unofficial prime minister--achieved limited success on the EU issue, while on Cyprus there was resounding failure.

Yet the most global test of the new government was to be its handling of the Iraqi crisis. In this, the party exposed itself to one of its greatest dangers--the contradiction between its gut beliefs and its role as the Turkish leader.

"Since it was established," columnist Nuray Mert wrote in the liberal daily Radikal in mid-March, "the AKP has been swinging between its supporters' demands and what is...

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