ANKARA (Reuters)–The head of Turkey’s parliamentary human rights group has accused Washington of genocide in Iraq and behaving worse than Adolf Hitler–in remarks underscoring the depth of opposition in Turkey to US policy in the region.
The US embassy said the commen’s were potentially damaging to Turkish-US relations.
"The occupation has turned into barbarism," Friday’s Yeni Safak newspaper quoted Mehmet Elkatmis–head of parliament’s human rights commission–as saying. "The US administration is committing genocide in Iraq."
"Never in human history have such genocide and cruelty been witnessed. Such a genocide was never seen in the time of the pharoahs (of ancient Egypt)–nor of Hitler nor of (Italy’s fascist leader Benito) Mussolini," he said.
"This occupation has entirely imperialist aims," he was quoted as telling the human rights commission on Thursday.
Elkatmis does not speak for Turkey’s government but he is a prominent member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)–a center-right grouping with Islamist roots which has become increasingly critical of US actions in Iraq.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul played down Elkatmis’s commen’s but defended Turks’ right to speak freely.
"In open societies–everybody can say what they want," Gul told reporters.
"Regarding US-Turkey relations we can comfortably discuss any subject," he added.
The US embassy in Ankara rejected Elkatmis’s accusations.
"Such unfounded–inaccurate–exaggerated claims are not good for relations–especially at a time of strain when Turkish public opinion is so critical of what the United States is trying to do in Iraq," one US diplomat told Reuters.
Tellingly–Elkatmis’s commen’s–which might have sparked outrage in many Western countries–drew barely a flicker of interest in Turkey–where opinion polls point to a growing tide of anti-American sentiment.
Turkey has been especially disturbed by the recent US offensive against insurgents in the city of Falluja in which civilians also died and mosques were damaged.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan relayed Turkish concerns over the Falluja offensive in two recent telephone calls to US President George W. Bush and to Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Elkatmis accused US forces of deliberately targeting mosques and schools in Falluja.
Washington says the Falluja campaign was necessary to bring the Sunni Muslim city back under the control of the central Baghdad government ahead of planned Iraqi elections in January.
The US diplomat said Elkatmis had overlooked the fact that Iraqi insurgents like those in Falluja had abducted and beheaded a number of Turkish truck drivers in recent months.
Underlying Turkish criticism of US policy in Iraq is the fear that Kurds in the north of the country may use the general turmoil as an excuse to seek independence from Baghdad–a move which could reignite separatism among Turkey’s own Kurds.
Last year–the Ankara parliament–motivated partly by such fears–refused to allow US troops to cross Turkish territory into Iraq at the start of the campaign to oust Saddam Hussein.