- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey Turkey strengthened its forces on the Iraqi border yesterday, sending hundreds of trucks and dozens of tanks and artillery guns to the frontier in the largest Turkish military buildup ahead of a likely war with Iraq.
The move comes amid strong tension between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds who live in an autonomous zone across the border. Turks and Iraqi Kurds could be key allies of the United States in a war to depose Saddam Hussein.
Turkey has said it will send tens of thousands of troops into northern Iraq in the event of war to prevent a flood of refugees and the creation of a Kurdish state if Iraq disintegrates. Iraqi Kurds have threatened to resist any Turkish incursion.
Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman cautioned Turkey yesterday against sending troops into northern Iraq without a coalition a sign that the Turkish buildup could strain relations with Washington.
"We oppose a unilateral Turkish move into northern Iraq," Mr. Grossman said in an interview with Turkish television station CNN-Turk.
The United States seeks to use Turkey as a staging ground to invade Iraq.
The Turkish military and government want to allow Washington to deploy more than 60,000 troops in the country, but parliament has so far blocked the move.
About 300 trucks and 200 other vehicles left military barracks near the southeastern province of Sanliurfa early yesterday and rumbled toward the border, military sources said.
The trucks were carrying M-47 tanks, ambulances, jeeps, self-propelled howitzers and other artillery.
More than 1,000 Turkish soldiers also rode on buses toward the border.
Last week, Turkey's parliament rejected a resolution allowing U.S. troops into the country. The government says it will press for a new resolution, though a new vote could take two to three weeks.
"If there is going to be a war, which is outside Turkey's will, it is impossible for Turkey to remain indifferent," Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said.
Turkey fears that an Iraq war could lead to an independent Kurdish state and revive a 15-year war between Kurdish rebels and Turkish troops in the southeast of the country.
Barham Salih, a senior official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two factions that control northern Iraq, met with Turkish officials in Ankara yesterday for talks aimed at easing tensions.
"We're opposed to unilateral intervention by any of our neighbors," Mr. Salih said, adding that Turkish Foreign Ministry officials assured him Turkey had no intention of crushing Kurdish self-rule in northern Iraq.
A delegation of U.S. congressmen Reps. Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat, and Edward Whitfield, Kentucky Republican, who are co-chairmen of the caucus on U.S.-Turkish relations, and Michigan Republican Mike Rogers held talks with governing party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials about the U.S. deployment plans.
Turkey has already authorized the U.S. military to renovate Turkish ports and bases for the arrival of combat troops and warplanes, and the pace of that work seemed to accelerate this week.
Workers unloaded U.S. military vehicles, ambulances, construction equipment and other material from a 22,000-ton freighter at the easternmost Mediterranean Turkish port of Iskenderun. On Thursday, about 30 trucks carrying U.S. jeeps, fuel trucks, and other equipment departed the port the first time U.S. military materiel had left Turkish ports.

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