- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey Turkey's parliament dealt a stunning blow to U.S. war planning yesterday by failing to approve a bill allowing in American combat troops to open a northern front against Iraq.
The decision is likely to seriously strain ties with Washington and marks a setback to U.S. efforts to show Saddam Hussein that he is surrounded and his neighbors support a U.S.-led coalition.
Prime Minister Abdullah Gul hastily called a meeting with his top ministers. It was not immediately clear if his Islamic-influenced ruling Justice and Development Party would resubmit the motion. "We will assess all this," said Mr. Gul, looking shaken and angry.
Parliament's vote was 264-250 in favor, with 19 abstentions. But Speaker Bulent Arinc nullified the decision because it was four short of the simple majority required by the constitution. He then closed parliament until Tuesday.
The Justice party was planning to meet today, said Reha Denemec, the party's deputy chairman. "We did not expect these results, but this is a democracy," he said.
U.S. Ambassador Robert Pearson rushed to the Foreign Ministry after the vote.
"We had certainly hoped for a favorable decision," he said. "We will wait for further information and advice from the government of Turkey about how we should proceed."
Turkish lawmakers had faced overwhelming public opposition to basing U.S. troops on Turkish soil. Yet Washington had been so sure of winning approval from close ally and NATO member Turkey that ships carrying U.S. tanks are waiting off Turkey's coast for deployment and the U.S. military has thousands of tons of military equipment ready to unload at the southern Turkish port of Iskenderun.
For weeks, the Bush administration had been pressing Turkey to agree to allow a northern front, which would split Saddam Hussein's army between the north and the south, likely making a war shorter and less bloody.
The motion would have empowered Turkey's government to authorize the basing of up to 62,000 troops, 255 warplanes and 65 helicopters. In exchange, Washington promised $15 billion in loans and grants to cushion the Turkish economy from the impact of war.
The United States also has pushed Turkey's eagerly sought candidacy in the European Union. And if Turkey does not agree to host U.S. forces, it loses a say in the future of neighboring Iraq if there is a war.
That is a critical issue for Turkey, which fears that a war could lead Kurds in northern Iraq to declare an independent state and in turn inspire Turkey's own Kurdish minority.
Nonetheless, Turkey's governing party had difficulty selling the unpopular measure to the Turkish people and could not push through the motion despite its overwhelming majority in parliament.
Polls show as much as 94 percent of the Muslim-dominated Turkish public opposes a war with Iraq.
After the speaker nullified the vote, hundreds of Turks celebrated in the streets of central Ankara, shouting anti-U.S. slogans.

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