- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkish army generals are pressing the government to accept U.S. demands for increased cooperation, including the deployment of 10,000 troops in Iraq.

However, diplomats say the influence of the military, the traditional guardian of Turkey’s secular system, has recently been clipped by the adoption of the latest European Union harmonization package, part of reforms required by Turkey’s candidacy for EU membership.

The decision whether to send Turkish troops to Iraq in exchange for a recent U.S. pledge of an $8.5 billion loan will be made by Parliament, most likely this month.

Yesterday, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said Turkey should only send peacekeeping troops to Iraq if parliament decides such a mission does not violate international law.

“Only Parliament has the right to decide whether to send troops to a foreign country. Only Parliament can decide whether sending troops is consistent with international law,” Reuters news agency quoted Mr. Sezer as telling the assembly’s opening session after the summer recess.

Diplomatic reports stress the increasingly uneasy relationship between the military establishment and the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, often accused by the military of favoring Islamic fundamentalism.

Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has evolved from the pro-Islamic regime of Necmettin Erbakan, who resigned under military pressure in 1997.

Last month, Gen. Cetin Dogan, one of several senior officers pressed into retirement, accused the government of attacking the military to humor the European Union. He warned that “those who refuse to allow the disruption of Turkey’s secular structure will act together.”

The warning recalled a military coup of 1980, after which the army conducted a massive “housecleaning” affecting the political parties and labor unions. Three years later, it returned to barracks.

Mr. Erdogan’s problems are not only with the military. The U.S. loan offer caused sharp criticism, with some politicians accusing the government of “mortgaging” its foreign policy, while others spoke of “the price of blood.”

The generals have remained exceptionally silent on the Iraq problem, in keeping with an order by Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, chief of the general staff, that “the military should not be commenting on issues that require political decisions.”

A number of senior military officers have voiced support of Turkey’s deployment in Iraq, urged by Washington. They include Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, recently appointed to command the 1st Army.

Diplomats and area specialists feel that while the role of the military in politics has been reduced since last August, the army’s role in national life remains crucial.

Turkey’s Parliament, dominated by the AKP, refused to let the U.S.-coalition forces pass through Turkey and open a northern front during the March invasion of Iraq, despite a huge aid package offered then by the United States.

The decision forced a redeployment of thousands of U.S. forces that had been waiting on ships off the Turkish coast for orders to land.

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