- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey yesterday scrapped plans to send troops to Iraq after Washington failed to break resistance to the deployment from Iraq’s U.S.-appointed Governing Council.

The announcement deprived the United States of an additional foreign force to help contain an increasingly violent insurgency in Iraq. The Bush administration had been pressing Turkey for months to send what would be the first major Muslim contingent of peacekeepers in Iraq.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul agreed in a telephone conversation Thursday night that the offer of Turkish troops would be withdrawn, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Without elaboration, Mr. Boucher said the “sensitivities” of the situation prompted the decision.

The Pentagon had been counting on a third multinational division, possibly led by Turkey. The Turkish parliament voted last month to allow the country’s troops to join the U.S.-led occupation of its southeastern neighbor. Turkey was expected to send some 10,000 soldiers and become the third-largest force in Iraq after Britain.

Turkish officials hoped that joining U.S.-led forces would mend strained ties with Washington after Ankara’s refusal to let American troops invade Iraq from Turkish soil in March, as well as giving Turkey a chance to have a say on the future of Iraq, and contain the Turkish Kurd rebel threat from bases in northern Iraq.

Iraqis, however, strongly objected to the Turkish troops because of sensitivities to the legacy of nearly 400 years of Ottoman rule in Iraq until World War I.

Turks are mostly Sunni Muslims, and their predecessors, the Ottomans, favored Iraq’s Sunnis while ruling over one of the world’s great empires. They sidelined members of the Shi’ite Muslim sect, a majority in Iraq.

Additionally, Iraqi Kurds feared that Turks would threaten their self-rule in northern Iraq. A 15-year insurgency by Kurdish rebels in Turkey ended in 1999, but the rebels have bases in northern Iraq and the potential to resume fighting.

The Turkish government’s highly unpopular decision to send troops to Iraq was fueled by concerns of repairing ties with Washington, a key supporter of Turkey’s battered economy and its ill-fated European Union candidacy.

“We said from the beginning that we were not too eager anyway [about sending troops],” Mr. Gul said. “We had said we would send [troops] if our contribution would be of use. We saw that this is not the situation. That’s why we took this decision.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan added that yesterday’s decision was consistent with what the government had said earlier.

“Remember, after the parliamentary discussion on Oct. 7, we said the decision does not mean that we will send soldiers there tomorrow,” Mr. Erdogan said.

The United States has promised Turkey an $8.5 billion loan in return for its cooperation in Iraq.


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