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Turkey to Vote on Troops

As negotiations with Washington continue, the government asks parliament to approve the deployment of 62,000 U.S. personnel.

February 26, 2003|Amberin Zaman | Special to The Times

ANKARA, Turkey — After months of foot-dragging, Turkey's government asked parliament Tuesday to authorize the deployment of about 62,000 U.S. troops in Turkey for use in a possible war against Iraq. A vote is expected this week.

The government sent the proposal to parliament even as it is still negotiating with Washington on some terms of deployment and on the size of a U.S. aid package. Turkey has been demanding billions of dollars in grants and loans in exchange for support of a war against Iraq. It also is demanding to be allowed to send tens of thousands of its own troops to northern Iraq to block moves by Iraqi Kurds to form an independent state, and to stem any flow of Kurdish refugees toward Turkey's border.

The two main Iraqi Kurdish factions controlling northern Iraq have voiced strong opposition, saying they are prepared to resist Turkish forces militarily. Analysts say the challenge facing the Bush administration is how to bridge differences between the Turks and the Kurds, both of whom would be key allies in a campaign to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"The nightmare scenario," said Henri Barkey, an expert on Kurdish and Turkish affairs at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, would be one in which the Turks and the Kurds wound up fighting one another.

"Leaving behind a Turkish occupation force in northern Iraq would weaken the United States' claims that it is seeking to introduce democracy to Iraq," Barkey said in a telephone interview.

On Tuesday, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman denied claims that Turkey has territorial designs on northern Iraq and the oil-rich vicinities of Mosul and Kirkuk, where Turkey and Iraqi Kurds have conflicting historical claims.

"It would be very misleading and unjustified to interpret any military measures Turkey might take to ensure its own security and to provide humanitarian aid to a possible wave of refugees as having a design or intentions over Iraq," spokesman Yusuf Buluc said in a statement. His comments followed a call by the Iraqi Kurdish parliament earlier Tuesday for no "military intervention by Turkey or other countries in Kurdistan under any pretext."

Buluc accused the Kurdish parliament of trying to create a "provocation."

"If everybody understands the conditions and dynamics prevailing in the region, it will become clear that there is no need for anyone to distort the situation with misleading and inconsistent remarks," he said.

Talks between the U.S. and Turkey have been dragging on for more than 11 months, mainly because the ruling Justice and Development Party is concerned about the overwhelming domestic opposition to a war against Turkey's fellow Muslim neighbor. Reflecting bitter divisions within government over Iraq, Deputy Prime Minister Ertugrul Yalcinbayir said: "If the bill [authorizing deployment of U.S. troops] is not approved, democracy would be strengthened."

Still, Turkish officials close to the negotiations said they were hopeful that a final deal could be reached as early as today and that parliament would approve the bill the same day.

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