- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

Turkey agreed yesterday to open its airspace to U.S. war planes headed for Iraq, resolving a dispute that had blocked access despite the Turkish parliament's earlier agreement to open its skies.
The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought yesterday to link the overflight privileges to the United States' allowing it to send Turkish troops into northern Iraq.
But after a conversation with Mr. Powell, Mr. Erdogan agreed to provide air corridors for U.S. and British planes, and deal later with the issue of Turkish troops.
"These things are under discussion: how to take care of the humanitarian situation in the northern part of Iraq, and what the U.S. and Turkey might do or might not do together," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
Turkey sent more than 1,000 commandos into northern Iraq yesterday, and said it would send more if needed to prevent Iraqi Kurds from creating an independent state.
It was not clear whether the move was coordinated with the United States.
Turkey maintains that its troops would provide humanitarian aid to Kurdish refugees.
But Turkey, which has a substantial Kurdish population, has also been worried that the Iraqi Kurds would use the opportunity of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's ouster to declare an independent state.
"We made clear that we don't support unilateral or uncoordinated moves by any party. Let's remember Iraq is a war zone now. And you don't want misunderstanding to occur in a war zone," Mr. Boucher said.
On the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq, Mr. Boucher said: "If it was something that was coordinated that we agreed to, then by definition, we wouldn't oppose it. But I'd say it's hypothetical at this point."
The Turkish parliament voted on the overflights measure after hostilities started Thursday. Earlier this month, it rejected a multibillion-dollar U.S. aid package in exchange for full support in the war.
"In the end, it was determined that opening airspace was in Turkey's interests," Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul told reporters in Ankara.
Yesterday's decision came after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters at the State Department that there was "some difficulty in operationalizing" the parliament's vote.
"We are in contact with them about their desire to have a presence in northern Iraq," he said. "At the moment, we don't see a need for any Turkish incursions into northern Iraq, and we are talking with the Turkish authorities to see whether or not there is some planning we should do with respect to any humanitarian needs that might arise along the border."
In private, U.S. officials were said to be "furious" with Turkey, a member of NATO.
"We are beyond frustration with Turkey for its obstructionism at what is a critical point in the war," one official was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. "We really need to get these overflights to drop our guys into northern Iraq."
"Basically, they don't want to give us the overflights unless we come out publicly and say it's OK for their military to go in," another official said. "That is just not going to happen."

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