- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s government yesterday voted to ask Parliament to send soldiers to Iraq, a move that could ease the burden of U.S. operations there and help mend frayed relations with Washington.

If Parliament agrees, Turkey will become the first predominantly Muslim nation to contribute troops to the U.S.-led coalition. But many lawmakers who had opposed the war in Iraq rejected the idea of sending troops to aid reconstruction.

Hoping to win over critics, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was to address members of his party today ahead of a parliamentary vote that could come as soon as later that day.

In a related development, the Japan Times newspaper in Tokyo reported yesterday that Japan will dispatch an advance unit of troops to Iraq as early as December to support the rehabilitation of the country.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will outline the plan when President Bush visits Tokyo on Oct. 17.

The advance unit of 100 personnel will be sent to southern Iraq because the area is relatively secure. It will make preparations for the full deployment of Japanese troops.

Turkish government spokesman Cemil Cicek would not disclose how many soldiers Ankara hopes to send, but officials have said the United States has requested about 10,000. The number “will be assessed according to needs,” Mr. Cicek said.

The United States also has been seeking soldiers from India, Pakistan and South Korea to bolster the 130,000-strong U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Turkey is NATO’s only Muslim member, and Washington is keen to see troops from Muslim countries in the peacekeeping mission.

Mr. Cicek said the troops would be deployed for a year, adding: “We hope that they stay for less than one year.”

He said the government wanted lawmakers to debate the issue today. Asked whether parliament would reject the deployment, Mr. Cicek said, “We have no such concerns.”

Mr. Erdogan has been in favor of contributing troops to help improve ties with the United States. Relations have been strained since March, when the Turkish Parliament narrowly turned down a U.S. request to station 60,000 troops.

A recent opinion poll indicated that 64.4 percent of Turks oppose sending troops.

The Cabinet decision came after Turkey received assurances from the U.S. State Department’s counterterrorism chief, Cofer Black, that the United States would remove the threat posed to Turkey by Turkish Kurdish rebels of the autonomy-seeking Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, based in northern Iraq.

U.S. officials did not rule out the use of military force against the group, designated by Washington as a terrorist organization.

On the ground in Iraq yesterday, U.S. forces removed the police chief of Beiji from office after a weekend of fighting and riots between pro-Saddam Hussein demonstrators, Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers in this important oil-refining city.

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