- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

CIZRE, Turkey, March 26 (UPI) — The chief of staff of Turkey's armed forces said Wednesday his country may send more troops into northern Iraq but only after coordinating with the United States.

The statement by Gen. Hilmi Ozkok comes after weeks of troop buildup on the Turkish side of the frontier with Iraq. Turkish media say some 42,000 troops are massed along the border in remote mountain villages. Last weekend, 1,000 to 1,500 troops are thought to have joined an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 already to be in Iraq.

Speaking at a news conference at a heavily fortified military base outside of the southeastern regional center of Diyarbakir, Ozkok laid out three causes for sending in additional troops: an attack on units already in northern Iraq, if one of the militias in the region attacked another or if a mass of refugees tried to enter Turkey.

If such developments occurred, Ozkok said, "We will not enter northern Iraq to fight or to occupy and we have no intention of setting up a permanent buffer zone there."

"Our action in such a case will be to coordinate with the U.S. to prevent misunderstanding," Ozkok said, adding that Turkey once again, as in the past, will extend its "friendly hand" to the groups in northern Iraq, a reference to the Kurdish and Turkomen parties in the region.

Referring to Iraqi Kurdish groups, Ozkok said, " We don't feel any grudge nor animosity toward any groups there. We have no hidden intention."

Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed self-rule for the past decade. Turkey fears they will seek to set up an independent state and that this would have a destabilizing effect on its own large Kurdish population. Turkish leaders have said that they would regard an independent Iraqi Kurdistan as a casus belli.

Starting in 1984, The Turkish military fought a 15-year insurgency by Turkish Kurdish separatists in which more than 30,000 people died and which devastated much of southeastern Turkey.

For their part, Iraqi Kurds have said they will fight a Turkish incursion. On Monday, Safin Dizayi, a representative of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said on Turkish television that his party, which rules the western half of Iraqi Kurdistan, would absolutely not welcome Turkish troops, no matter what their rationale for coming in.

Referring to Turkish units in the KDP area, Dizayi said, "We are working in peace with them. However, there is no need for additional forces."

Secretary of State Colin Powell said over the weekend Turkey has no need to send troops into Iraq.

Responding to strong criticism in the past few days from the United States and Europe, Ozkok said, "The unjustified skepticism and doubts coming from certain friendly countries, allies and institutions have hurt the feelings of Turkish people.

"It is rather difficult to understand those who sees a threat coming from overseas not comprehending Turkey's position facing a threat (on its doorstep)," Ozkok said.

"If things go wrong one day, I do hope that these friends of ours will not have to request that which they would now deny us," he said.

No decision has been reached in negotiations between officials in Ankara, the Turkish capital, and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilazad on creating a 9- to 12-mile buffer zone between Turkey and Iraq, according to a U.S. spokesman in Ankara. "At the moment, there are no agreements," the spokesman, John Pennington said. "Discussions are ongoing." Khalilzad began talks on Monday.

With tight control by the Turkish military, it's impossible for journalists to see exactly how many troops are based in the frontier region and where they are. A de facto 12-mile buffer zone exists on the Turkish side. The main road is closed just past Silopi, which is 10 miles from the border, and no vehicles are allowed through. Large military bases in Cizre and Silopi are filled with tanks and troops.

In Washington, the administration reported it has earmarked $1 billion for Turkey in a request for $74.7billion in emergency funding it is seeking from Congress. The $1 billion could be leveraged into $8.1 billion in loans.

An earlier economic aid package worth $6 billion was taken off the table when Turkey's parliament failed to approve permission for U.S. troops to enter Turkey prior to moving into Iraq to form a northern front there.

The Turkish media estimates it could lose as much as $16 billion from war in Iraq over the next year, mainly in lost tourist revenues.

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(With additional reporting in Turkey by Seva Ulman.)




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