ANKARA, Turkey - The Turkish parliament voted yesterday to open the country's airspace to U.S. warplanes, setting the stage for a second front in northern Iraq, which allies hope will speed the war and save lives.
The government-sponsored proposal allows U.S.-led coalition planes and missiles to fly over Turkey, but it doesn't address a U.S. request to use military bases or move ground troops across Muslim Turkey, a NATO member. No date has been set for a vote on that larger request.
Yesterday's decision, which passed 332-202, gives warplanes based in Europe and the United States a path into Iraq other than over Israel and Jordan. That will make it easier for the U.S.-led coalition to move troops and supplies into northern Iraq, which could help the extensive humanitarian effort it expects will be needed after the fighting.
But the vote also authorizes Turkey to send its soldiers over the border into northern Iraq for up to six months. Such a move would be bound to anger ethnic Kurds, who inhabit an autonomous zone in northern Iraq. Turkey waged a 13-year campaign against the separatist Kurdish Workers Party in southeast Turkey.
U.S. officials have told Turkish officials that their army's presence in northern Iraq could destabilize the volatile population. But Turkey has insisted on its right to use its troops to stem a refugee crisis or to battle Kurdish militants if its national security is threatened.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that Washington had asked Turkey not to send its troops into northern Iraq, although it apparently hasn't received firm assurances from Ankara.
"Our ears are closed to these kinds of remarks," said Emin Sirin, the deputy chair of the Turkish parliament's foreign affairs committee, who said he expected 25,000 to 30,000 Turkish troops to buffer the borders. "It is mainly for the security concerns. They are not going to be [there] for fights or combat."
The United States originally wanted to move 62,000 U.S. troops south through Turkey, including the entire 4th Infantry Division. In return, it offered Turkey $6 billion in grants and about $25 billion in loans.
On March 1, the Turkish parliament voted not to allow the use of the bases and ground movements, and a vote on further cooperation has been postponed indefinitely.