- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey, Feb. 25 (UPI) — The Ankara government, after numerous delays, announced Tuesday it had asked parliament to approve deployment of up to 62,000 U.S. combat troops on Turkish soil.

The government of Prime Minister Abdullah Gul also asked that more than 300 U.S. military aircraft and helicopters be permitted to use Turkish airspace for six months in an expected U.S.-led war on Iraq, a government spokesman said. The number of aircraft was put at 255 and helicopters at 65.

The long-awaited decision was expected to ease tension with Washington, which has been demanding that Turkey make up its mind about allowing U.S. forces to deploy in the country on the way to a war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The United States sees Turkey's cooperation as vital to opening a northern front in the adjacent region of Iraq.

The government — at the same time — also asked parliament for permission to send Turkish troops abroad. Both steps require parliamentary approval under the Turkish constitution.

Turkey has made clear it intends to move troops into Iraqi Kurdistan for several reasons. Most important for Ankara is to prevent the Iraqi Kurds, who have enjoyed autonomy from Baghdad for the past 12 years, from setting up an independent state.

The Turks also strongly oppose Iraqi Kurdish forces moving into the oil centers of Kirkuk and Mosul. The Turks also have set up posts to deal with what might be a flood of Iraqis fleeing the war and seeking to enter Turkey.

The Turkish military believe that several thousand separatist Turkish Kurd guerrillas, who have retreated to bases in the Iraqi mountains, might try to return to southeastern Turkey.

Ankara's decision came after long, detailed and exacting negotiations with Washington that were broken off last week but resumed this week. Turkish officials said the talks were almost completed as of Tuesday.

A 100-page memorandum of understanding between Turkey and the United States centered on three main issues: political, military and economic.

A single issue remained to be resolved: U.S. insistence some of Turkey's financial requirements be met through the International Monetary Fund. Turkey opposed this because of conditions expected to be imposed by the IMF, a source close to the talks said.

Bulent Arinj, the speaker of parliament, said the Turkish Grand National Assembly would vote on the motion this week, possibly on Thursday.

The Gul government made up its mind Monday to send the motion to parliament after a six-hour debate that reflected uneasiness among its members.

"A significant number of our members found the developments unsatisfactory," a government spokesman told reporters Monday after the Cabinet meeting.

Gul is faced with wide opposition within his government, his ruling Justice and Development Party, and public opinion that is strongly opposed to a war.

Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday urged deputies to put aside their feelings and act rationally for the good of the country and to follow party discipline. Erdogan was to hold an extraordinary party meeting Wednesday aimed at insuring the deputies deliver a yes vote.

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