ISTANBUL, Turkey — The Turkish Parliament voted Wednesday to allow the government to deploy Turkish troops abroad, a move that may put a new Muslim and NATO ally alongside U.S. troops in the deserts of Saudi Arabia.
The parliamentary vote also permitted the government to host foreign troops on Turkish soil, which would allow the swift deployment or reinforcement of U.S. forces at air bases in southeastern Turkey near Iraq.
While a significant regional morale boost for Washington--which has been vulnerable to Iraqi calls for a Muslim holy war against the Christian soldiers of the West now stationed in Saudi Arabia--diplomats say the Turkish government is not likely to use its new powers soon.
Prime Minister Yildirim Akbulut told reporters that "troops are the last resort, but we might send a ship to the gulf."
The war-powers bill had a rough passage through Turkey's 450-seat Parliament on Wednesday, with 136 deputies voting against it.
"It is adventurism. We cannot accept it. . . . It could turn all our neighbors against us," Erdal Inonu, leader of the main opposition Social Democrats, told reporters before the closed-door debate.
Protests from left and right were mainly over the way the Turkish leader, President Turgut Ozal, has steadily abandoned Turkey's traditional regional neutrality during the gulf crisis. He has firmly taken sides with the West against Baghdad and predicted the downfall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The question of how Turkey is to be compensated for at least $3 billion of economic damage from the embargo on Iraq is likely to top the agenda when Ozal meets President Bush later this month. And some Turks have other goals as well.
Amid the gulf crisis, right-wing Turkish newspapers have raised the question of recovering "our land" in oil-rich provinces just south of Turkey whose loss in the 1920s to British-mandated Iraq is still regretted by many Turks. Ozal has made no reference to this, but does say he wants to go back to the active foreign policy pursued by the founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk.
"After the crisis, the map of the Middle East will change completely. . . . If there is a better place for us in the world, we must take it," Ozal told the newspaper Sabah. The borders that had been the cornerstone of Turkish foreign policy since the end of the Ottoman Empire are now a "basic goal that should also be reassessed according to the conditions of the day," he said.
The idea of taking back oil-rich northern Iraq strikes a chord with some Turks. But True Path Party leader Suleyman Demirel echoed the feelings of many others when he told reporters: "Where is our motto of 'Peace at home, peace in the world'? What happened to your (Ozal's) statements that you had no eye on anyone else's territory?"