- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey, March 1 (UPI) — In a tense session Saturday Turkey's parliament nullified the legislature's vote to deploy U.S. troops on Turkish soil, in effect closing, for the time being, U.S. plans to open a northern front for any war against Iraq.

A second vote is expected to be held Tuesday, at the earliest.

The vote, following a lengthy, closed-door debate, was 264-251 with 19 abstaining. But opposition leaders challenged the vote because the outcome fell four short of the 268 votes needed for a simple majority.

The small margin in Saturday's vote reflected that a considerable number — more than 100 deputies — from the ruling Justice and Development Party voted against a measure that would allow the deployment of some 62,000 U.S. troops in Turkey.

Analysts said the postponement reflected the failure of efforts Wednesday and Thursday by Prime Minister Abdullah 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.

Earlier this week, Gul had agreed to allow the United States to deploy 62,000 troops in exchange for billions of dollars in economic aid — compensation for expected economic damage that an Iraq war would cost the country, Turkey has argued. The Turkish constitution, however, requires parliamentary approval for the stationing of foreign troops on national territory.

Gul's 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.

Public opposition was on display Saturday, with thousands of people gathering a few miles away from Turkey's parliament to protest. The demonstrators shouted anti-war slogans and carried banners that read, "We don't want to be American soldiers" and "We want a budget for education and not for war."

Additional opposition has come from Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who has argued the motion does not complying with standards of international legitimacy and constitutionality. Recently, Sezer said the resolution would violate Turkey's constitution if it lacked the "international legitimacy" offered by a second U.N. Security Council resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Turkish Daily News reported.

The United States, however, had lobbied hard for access. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Gul Wednesday to stress the urgency of deploying the troops, as well as an estimated 255 warplanes and 65 helicopters, to open the northern front in a war against Iraq, which Washington strategists say would shorten the war and reduce casualties.

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, and Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said Thursday an agreement on military issues was completed.

The issues included 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 also has 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.

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