- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

ISTANBUL The leader of Turkey's ruling party said yesterday he was confident he would win a by-election, putting him in line to become prime minister as the country struggles with whether to deploy more than 60,000 U.S. troops for an Iraq war.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the main power behind the scenes since his Islamic-rooted party formed a government after November elections, but he was barred from political office until a recent constitutional change.
Mr. Erdogan, who is running in the by-election today in the southeastern province of Siirt, is expected to replace Prime Minister Abdullah Gul and form a new Cabinet within days possibly removing ministers who have opposed allowing the U.S. deployment.
Washington is pressing its longtime ally to quickly authorize the deployment of more than 60,000 U.S. combat troops to open a northern front against neighboring Iraq.
Last week, Turkey's parliament rejected a resolution that would have allowed deployment of the American force, and the government is evaluating whether to resubmit it for second vote. A war in Iraq is extremely unpopular in Turkey, and about 90 lawmakers of Mr. Erdogan's Justice and Development Party did not support the deployment.
Most analysts said it was unlikely that a second resolution would be presented to parliament before Mr. Erdogan forms a new government.
Several Cabinet ministers have spoken out against the deployment and likely would refuse to give their necessary approval to a second resolution. The daily Hurriyet reported yesterday that when Mr. Erdogan reshuffles the Cabinet, he plans to reduce the number of ministers to 20 from 24 and leave out ministers opposed to the U.S. deployment.
Mr. Erdogan and Turkey's government have argued that Turkey risks straining ties with the United States and losing a say in the future of Iraq if it does not let in the U.S. troops.
Beyond that, $15 billion is at stake. The United States promised the money as aid to Turkey to offset predicted economic loses from a war. But the money is contingent on deploying U.S. troops.
There are few doubts that Mr. Erdogan will win one of the three seats in ballot in Siirt, his wife's home province 60 miles north of the Turkish-Iraqi border.
Mr. Erdogan said yesterday that his party likely would win all three seats. "God willing, all seats will be ours," he said.
He and Mr. Gul have shared the spotlight since the Justice party's landslide victory in November.

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