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Turkish Premier Casts Doubts on Troop Deployment

Prime Minister Erdogan says he won't send forces if Iraqis don't want them. Iraq's Governing Council and Kurds oppose their presence.

October 19, 2003|From Associated Press

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkey's prime minister said Saturday that his country would scrap plans to send troops to Iraq if Iraqis continued to oppose the deployment.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government supports sending peacekeepers to Iraq, as requested by the United States. Parliament approved a deployment last week.

But the proposed deployment has met vocal opposition from many Iraqis, who fear that Turkey will pursue its own agenda once in Iraq. The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council has come out against having Turkish troops -- or troops from any neighboring nation -- on Iraqi soil.

"The demands of the Iraqi people are very important for us," Erdogan was quoted as saying in Mallorca, Spain, by Turkey's semiofficial Anatolia news agency. "We aren't longing to send soldiers to Iraq. There was a request from the United States and we're evaluating it.

"If the Iraqi people say, 'We don't want anybody,' there's nothing else we can do," Erdogan was quoted as saying. "If wanted, we'll go, if not wanted, we won't go. We haven't made a definite decision."

Erdogan added: "The requests of the United States are very important to us."

The United States has welcomed a possible deployment by Turkey, hoping the Turks would become the first major contingent from a Muslim country.

But Washington is now proceeding cautiously amid opposition from the Governing Council and Iraqi Kurds. Some Turkish officials have downplayed the council's opposition and have said Iraqis would welcome Turkish troops.

On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing a multinational force in Iraq. That has apparently boosted Washington's hopes that other nations might contribute to a peacekeeping operation.

Turkey's government sees a deployment as a way of increasing its influence in Iraq and improving relations with the United States, which have been strained since Turkey in March refused to allow U.S. troops to invade Iraq from its territory.

But Kurds in northern Iraq are suspicious of Turkey's motives. Kurds are Turkey's largest minority, and the government fought a 15-year war with separatist Kurdish guerrillas in southeastern Turkey, which borders Iraq. U.S. authorities have already suggested that if Turkish peacekeepers are sent to Iraq, they would be deployed away from Kurdish areas.

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