Turkish military signals support

Official backs measure to allow U.S. troops to use bases in Iraq war

March 06, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ISTANBUL - Turkey's military stepped into the political battle over the country's role in a conflict with Iraq yesterday, signaling its support for a measure, blocked by the Turkish parliament last week, that would allow thousands of American troops to stage an attack from Turkish soil.

In a rare public statement, Hilmi Ozkok, the chief of the Turkish general staff, appeared to support efforts by the country's political leaders to ask parliament to reconsider a resolution that would have allowed as many as 62,000 American troops to attack from bases here.

At almost the same time, a senior member in the ruling Justice and Development Party said yesterday that Turkey's leaders were determined to take the measure back to the parliament a second time and push harder to guarantee its success.

The Turkish party official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the government would probably not act until after a local parliamentary election Sunday. That election is expected to lead to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the party's leader, becoming prime minister.

Yesterday's developments appeared to breathe new life into the Bush administration's plans to strike Iraq from the north as well as the south. The resolution - which would have authorized American troops to come to Turkey and Turkish troops to go into northern Iraq - failed Saturday night by three votes.

"The Turkish armed forces' view is the same as the government's and is reflected in the motion that our government sent to parliament," Ozkok said. "The war will be short if a second front is opened from the north."

Yesterday's events set the stage for an extraordinary political struggle, pitting the country's senior political and military leaders against the country's elected parliament. The measure authorizing American troops had been endorsed by Erdogan and the nation's prime minister, Abdullah Gul. Both men had predicted its passage. But nearly 100 members of the ruling party defied their leaders and voted against it.

Against public opinion

Many of those who voted against the resolution cited the opinions of Turkey's voters, who polls show oppose their country's involvement in an Iraqi war by an overwhelming margin.

Yesterday's events suggested that Turkey's leaders, and particularly Erdogan, were prepared to defy public opinion to approve the American plan. "It's a good statement," Gul said of the general's remarks.

Turkey's leaders have been under intense American pressure since Saturday's vote to ask the parliament again to allow American troops into the country. On Sunday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell telephoned Gul to talk about the issue.

An official at the U.S. Embassy said yesterday that Robert Pearson, the American ambassador, had not met with Ozkuk since Saturday's vote. He said he did not know if other American officials, either at the embassy or in Washington, had had any contact with the Turkish generals.

There were indications that American diplomats have been pressing their case to have the troop resolution reconsidered. Turkish and American officials confirmed that American diplomats have begun meeting privately with members of the majority party, including legislators who voted against the measure.

Emin Sirin, a Turkish legislator in the governing party who opposed the American plan, said he was visited by American diplomats Tuesday to talk about the vote. Sirin said the American diplomats asked him what they could do to improve relations between the two countries, but he said he had not been asked to change his vote.

"They had a very gentlemanly attitude," Sirin said. "They didn't have that attitude a month ago."

Sirin said he had not decided to change his vote, but might if the U.S. government offered a more generous economic package.

The test over the next several days will be whether the ruling party can persuade enough recalcitrant legislators to change their votes. There were indications yesterday that some Turkish legislators who had opposed the measure would be willing to change their minds, if only to prop up a government whose credibility was badly damaged by Saturday's defeat.

Lawmaker reconsiders

In an interview published in Sabah, a Turkish daily newspaper, one influential member of parliament who had opposed the measure suggested many of the 96 legislators who opposed the resolution last week would change their minds.

"If the same motion comes today, it would 100 percent be accepted," said Mehmet Elkatmis, a member of the ruling party who voted against the troop deployment. "If it comes again, I would definitely say yes to it."

It was unclear what motivated the Turkish military to intervene in the debate over American troops. The military, which had intervened repeatedly in Turkish politics over the years, had assumed a low profile in the days leading up the vote.

Some Turkish officials said the hands-off approach was primarily a result of the Turkish generals' dislike of the ruling party, which they regard with suspicion for its Islamist past.

A Turkish official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the generals were particularly alarmed that Saturday's vote, by canceling the deployment of Turkey's troops into northern Iraq, had forfeited the country's influence over the future of northern Iraq. The Turkish officials said the nation's generals were nervous about the ability of the United States to ensure that the Kurds did not try to set up an independent state.

"The main concern is, `What if things get out of control?'" the Turkish official said. "They are very nervous, very concerned."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.