- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey, Feb. 27 (UPI) — Turkey's parliament postponed until Saturday a vote on whether to allow U.S. troops to deploy in the country, which it had been expected to take up Thursday.

Analysts saw the postponement as a setback to U.S. plans to use Turkish territory as a staging area for a northern front in Iraq in the expected coming war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Earlier this week, the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Gul agreed to allow the United States to deploy 62,000 troops.

The Turkish constitution, however, requires that stationing of foreign troops on the national territory receive parliamentary approval.

Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Gul to stress the urgency of deploying the troops.

Analysts said the postponement reflected the failure of efforts Wednesday and Thursday by Gul and Recept Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, to line up sufficient votes among their parliamentary deputies to carry the measure.

The party, known by its Turkish initials AKP, has 363 members in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly, usually a commanding majority. However, observers pointed out, over 80 percent of the Turkish public is opposed to a war with Iraq. The only other party to make it into parliament in elections last November, the Republican People's Party, has said it will vote against the motion. Hostility to a war is also strong throughout Turkish political circles that see it as likely to impose severe difficulties on the country's ailing economy.

A spokesman President Ahmet Necdet Sezer indicated Thursday the deputies should hold off voting until the U.N. Security Council deals with a new resolution on Iraq and its possession of weapons of mass destruction. The U.N. body is currently dealing with draft resolutions presented by France and Britain and awaiting a report by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to be delivered on March 1.

Turkey's powerful National Security Council, dominated by senior military officers, is expected Friday to take up the question of cooperation with the United States over Iraq.

Negotiations in recent weeks between Washington and Ankara have often been difficult but a 100-page memorandum of understanding has been drafted that covers economic, political and military issues.

Also Thursday Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said agreement on military issues was completed.

These include Turkish insistence that it supervise the U.S. distribution of weapons to the Iraqi Kurds and their retrieval after the war. Washington has agreed to this and also that it will not supply heavy weapons to the Iraqi Kurds.

Turkey fears that the war would lead to a formation of independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, which would revive separatist aspirations among its own 12 million Kurds.

The United States has also agreed to place the northern Iraqi oil centers of Kirkuk and Mosul under its control and prevent any Kurdish attempt to take them over. Both centers are at present under the hand of the Baghdad regime but are situated on the edge of the autonomous region the Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed since 1991.

Washington has further agree that Turkish troops may enter northern Iraq at the same time U.S. troops do, a concession to Ankara that has alarmed the Iraqi Kurds who fear Ankara will attempt to control their region.

It was not clear Thursday whether the United States has also agreed that the Iraqi Turkomans are to be recognized as one of the main elements in northern Iraq with the same status as the 3.5 million Kurds. The Iraqi Turkoman Front, backed by Ankara, rejects the authority of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan that control respectively the western and eastern parts of Iraqi Kurdistan. The front asserts the Iraqi Turkomans number 2 million. Most analysts estimate there are about 350,000 of them.

In a related development, Turkey has evacuated its embassy staff in Baghdad and asked Turkish citizens to leave Iraq as soon as possible.

It has also closed trade across the border at the Habur gate on the only road that directly links Turkey and Iraq.

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