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Turks Halt Deliveries to U.S. Forces in Iraq

August 03, 2004|Amberin Zaman | Special to The Times

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's top trucking association announced Monday that it was halting all deliveries to U.S. forces in Iraq after Islamic militants released footage of a Turkish hostage being shot dead.

The Istanbul-based International Truckers Assn. blamed poor security for the move, and the group's chairman, Cahit Soysal, said he hoped the step would help save the lives of at least two Turkish truck drivers believed to be held by Islamic militants in Iraq.

Between 200 and 300 Turkish trucks carrying food, drinking water, aircraft fuel and other supplies to U.S. forces cross into Iraq from Turkey every day.

"As of today, they no longer will be," Soysal said. An additional 1,800 trucks carrying supplies elsewhere across Iraq will continue their daily run, however, he said.

Iraq is among Turkey's top trading partners, with about $800 million worth of Turkish goods exported to Iraq in the first half of this year.

Turkish officials said it was unclear what impact the stoppage would have.

Bedrettin Karaboga, the chairman of a business lobbying group in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeastern provinces bordering Iraq said the truckers' decision to stop shipments to Iraq was not binding and that trade with Iraq would continue.

He criticized the association for giving in, as he put it, to "terrorists who are everything but Islamic."

The decision came shortly after an Islamic website videotape, attributed to Qatar-based satellite TV channel Al Jazeera, showed a hooded kidnapper shooting the Turkish hostage, identified as Murat Yuce, three times in the head.

Before his death, Yuce told the camera: "You don't have to hold a gun to be aiding the occupying United States. Turkish companies should withdraw from Iraq."

In a related development, Turkish news channel NTV reported that a Turkish truck driver had been killed near Baghdad when Iraqi insurgents opened fire on his vehicle as he was carrying supplies to a U.S. base.

The victim was identified as Ferit Nural, 53. Family members said he had been working to put his two sons through college.

Turkey, a key ally in the U.S.-declared war against global terrorism, had hoped its refusal to contribute troops to the American-led coalition in Iraq would make it immune to attacks by insurgents.

But in recent months a number of Turkish workers have been captured by militants thought to be associated with Jordanian-born Abu Musab Zarqawi, who U.S. officials say is a leader of the Iraq insurgency. Those seized include two other truck drivers, Abdurrahman Demir and Sait Unurlu.

"We are working to save their lives," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said. "But today, unfortunately for the first time, we have lost one of our citizens." Gul declined to say how many Turks were being held in Iraq.

Yuce worked for Bilintur, a Turkish company that provided laundry services for a Jordanian group that has worked with U.S. troops in Iraq. Bilintur said in a statement that it was trying to secure the release of another of its Turkish employees who had gone missing with Yuce last week, but it did not identify the worker.

Yuce's widow, Leyla, said she had watched her husband being killed on a neighbor's television. "He didn't deserve to die. I want my husband's body back, to see his cold face for one last time," she said on NTV.

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