U.S. is allowed to send supplies through Turkey

Food, fuel, medicine, `humanitarian assistance' OK, but not weapons

War in Iraq

April 03, 2003|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Turkey has agreed to permit the limited resupply of American military forces in northern Iraq through Turkish territory, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday, easing pressure on stretched supply lines and shoring up shaky relations between the two longtime allies.

Powell said at a televised news conference here yesterday that Turkish officials will allow food, fuel, medicine and "other humanitarian assistance" into Iraq for U.S. forces. Turkey also agreed to let U.S. military planes in distress land in Turkish territory, he said.

"We have solved all of the outstanding issues with respect to providing supplies through Turkey to those units that are doing such a wonderful job in northern Iraq," Powell said.

However, when asked if the Turkish support would include the transit of weapons, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said: "No. No," the Anatolia news agency reported.

Relations between Turkey and the United States were severely strained when the Turkish parliament rejected a plan last month to deploy 62,000 U.S. troops through Turkey, which would have enabled the Pentagon to open a northern front against Baghdad.

Instead, the United States has deployed a relatively small number of paratroopers and special forces in northern Iraq, forcing war planners to use Kurdish fighters as ground troops in their assault on Iraq 's military forces in the north.

Improving relations

Powell said that he felt a "lingering sense of disappointment" over last month's rebuff.

But he called the latest pact, which does not require the approval of parliament, "the beginning of what I hope will be a very constructive relationship" between Turkey and a post-war Iraq.

Turkey appears to have acted swiftly on its pledge. The Associated Press reported yesterday that 27 trucks carrying 20 U.S. jeeps and food passed through Turkey and arrived in Arbil, in northern Iraq, according to sources there. The jeeps had mounts in the back for machine guns, but did not have the weapons.

Turkey has been hit with extensive anti-war protests, and dozens of police kept hundreds of egg-hurling protestors at bay in Ankara. But busloads of police posted around central Taksim Square here in Istanbul, apparently in anticipation of trouble, had nothing to do.

The Turkish public may still react with fury, however, if people here decide that Ankara is making too direct a contribution to the American-led war effort.

Opinion polls have consistently found that more than 90 percent of Turkish residents oppose the war.

Concerns with Kurds

Emerging from discussions with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul yesterday, Powell said the two nations had also agreed to set up a committee to monitor events in northern Iraq, to forestall any major infusion of Turkish troops there.

The Turks are concerned that the Kurds, who control the mountainous regions of northeast Iraq, will seize vital oil fields near Kirkuk and Mosul, providing the economic basis to establish a Kurdish state.

Coalition aircraft have been bombing the Iraqi military outside both cities since shortly after the conflict began. Yesterday, many Iraqis units abandoned their positions near Kirkuk after repeated B-52 strikes.

Turkish military and civilian leaders have watched anxiously as Kurdish fighters have advanced into territory abandoned by Iraqi troops.

Creation of an independent Kurdish state, many here fear, could result in a resurgence of separatist sentiment among Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Syria.

More than 30,000 people died in Turkey during the 15-year civil war between government forces and separatist Kurdish guerillas. Both sides stand accused by human rights groups of committing massacres and other grave abuses.

`Pretty stable'

The Turks have stationed a relatively small number of troops inside Iraq since 1997, in order to pursue Kurdish Workers' Party fighters still hiding in remote mountain camps on both sides of the border. But in recent months, military authorities reportedly have massed 100,000 troops along the Iraq border, and Turkey is threatening to send tens of thousands of additional soldiers streaming deep into Iraqi territory.

The Kurds, meanwhile, have vowed to resist any large Turkish moves into Iraq.

Powell made it clear that the United States opposes a major deployment of Turkish troops across the border. "The situation is pretty stable, and so we see absolutely nothing that would require such an incursion," he said.

Powell also pointed out that "Turkey will have an important role to play in this reconstruction effort," not only in terms of direct aid but as an example of a Muslim democracy.

The White House has asked Congress for $75 billion to pay for the war, a figure that includes $1 billion in aid to Turkey. Turkey could trade the cash in for $8.5 billion in loan guarantees. When it blocked access to northern Iraq through Turkey, the Turkish parliament forfeited an estimated $30 billion worth of U.S. aid.

Yesterday's announcement could help persuade skeptics in Congress that Turkey deserves United States aid.

Powell met yesterday with the three most powerful figures in Turkey's government, including Gul, Erdogan and - perhaps most significantly - General Hilmi Ozkok, chief of the general staff. The Turkish military holds enormous power here, acting as almost an independent branch of government.

Ozkok's support could be the key to keeping the Turkish military from streaming across the border.

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