Turkey's leaders ask Parliament to allow U.S. troops

62,000 would be used in possible Iraq war

February 26, 2003|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

ANKARA, Turkey - After months of foot-dragging, Turkey's government asked Parliament yesterday to authorize the basing of 62,000 U.S. troops in Turkey for use in a possible war against Iraq. A vote is expected this week.

The government sent the proposal to Parliament even though it is negotiating with the United States on terms of deployment and the size of an aid package. Turkey has been demanding billions of dollars in grants and loans in exchange for its support in a war against Iraq. It is also demanding to be allowed to send tens of thousands of its troops to northern Iraq. They would block any moves by the Iraqi Kurds to form an independent state as well as stem the potential flow of Kurdish refugees toward the Turkish border.

The two main Iraqi Kurdish factions controlling northern Iraq have voiced strong opposition, saying they are prepared to resist Turkish forces militarily. Analysts say the challenge facing the Bush administration is how to bridge differences between the Turks and the Kurds, both key allies in any eventual campaign to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"The nightmare scenario," said Henri Barkey, an expert on Kurdish and Turkish affairs at Lehigh University, would be one where the Turks and the Kurds would end up fighting against each other. "Leaving behind a Turkish occupation force in northern Iraq," he said in a telephone interview, "would weaken the United States' claims that is seeking to introduce democracy to Iraq."

Yesterday, a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman denied accusations that Turkey has territorial designs over northern Iraq and the oil-rich areas of Mosul and Kirkuk, over which Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds have conflicting historical claims.

"It would be very misleading and unjustified to interpret any military measures Turkey might take to ensure its own security and to provide humanitarian aid to a possible wave of refugees as having a design or intentions over Iraq," spokesman Yusuf Buluc said in a statement. His comments followed a call by the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament earlier in the day against "military intervention by Turkey or other countries in Kurdistan under any pretext."

Buluc accused the Kurdish Parliament of trying to create a "provocation" and said, "If everybody understands the conditions and dynamics prevailing in the region, it will become clear that there is no need for anyone to distort the situation with misleading and inconsistent remarks."

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