Turkey concedes, says it won't boost forces in north Iraq

U.S. officials had feared increase would anger Kurds helping coalition

War In Iraq

March 27, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey - Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, chief of staff of the Turkish armed forces, said yesterday that barring human catastrophe or open warfare between rival Kurdish factions, Turkey would not send more troops into northern Iraq.

"This is not our war," the general said, reading from a prepared text at a local military base here. "This is not our mission."

His announcement eased fears of a war-within-a-war on the northern front, though Ozkok did say that he reserved the right to send additional forces into Iraq if the situation there spins out of control.

"As it is known, there is a Turkish military presence in northern Iraq," the general said.

"Our biggest concern is an attack on our position or a large refugee crisis from an unexpected development in the war or an attack on our stability from the armed elements in the region," the general said. He added that if Turkey does send troops, it would do so only under the supervision of the United States.

U.S. and European officials have pressed Turkey not to send forces into northern Iraq, fearing that their presence would inflame the passions of Kurdish militias helping small numbers of U.S. troops secure the area. Turkey told its Western allies Monday that it planned to create a buffer zone to contain refugees in northern Iraq if there were a mass exodus, but yesterday, Ozkok backed away from those plans.

It is unclear why the military had a change of heart, but perhaps it had to do with White House plans to offer $1 billion in cash grants to Turkey to cushion the economic trauma of war. If approved by Congress, Turkey will also receive loan guarantees of $8.5 billion. The financial package is only a fraction of what Washington had initially offered its ally for "full cooperation" in the Iraq campaign.

The White House initially offered $6 billion in direct aid and $24 billion in loans before the Turkish parliament refused March 1 to open its bases to American troops. Eventually the parliament authorized use of its air space for overflights of American warplanes attacking targets in northern Iraq.

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