- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Turkish lawmakers yesterday overwhelmingly approved a U.S. request to send peacekeeping troops to neighboring Iraq, despite the deep misgivings of senior members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

The 358-183 vote in the Turkish parliament seemed certain to improve ties with Washington that were badly strained by Turkey’s failure to back President Bush in the war to oust Saddam Hussein.

But the move also set the stage for another clash between the Bush administration and leaders of Iraq’s 24-person Governing Council, many of whom fear a Turkish deployment would inflame ethnic tensions and harm the already shaky security situation.

Iyad Allawi, the current head of the Iraqi council, denied earlier press reports that the IGC had formally rejected the Turkish contingent, saying that the matter would be taken up with Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer at a meeting today.

But other representatives said an overwhelming majority of the IGC opposes letting Turkish troops enter the country, in particular because of long-standing tensions between Turks and the Kurds who dominate Iraq’s north.

Iraq’s Kurds have long feared Turkey had territorial ambitions across the border, while Turkish leaders have faced a long and bloody separatist struggle with Turkey’s own ethnic Kurdish minority.

“The Governing Council’s stand is against the presence of troops from neighboring countries without exception, and Turkey is one of these countries,” said Nabeil al-Moussawi of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), whose head Ahmad Chalabi had been a leading U.S. ally in the run-up to the war and now sits on the IGC.

“We believe any interference from a neighboring country, either north, south, west or east, is unacceptable,” Mouwafak Al-Rabii, a Shi’ite council member and longtime human rights activist, told reporters in Baghdad. “This interference is unacceptable.”

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher praised Turkey’s decision and said U.S. officials are urging both sides to keep “an open mind” about a Turkish deployment.

“We’re not going to ram anything down anyone’s throat,” Mr. Boucher said.

But even as U.S. officials tout the increasing powers being given to the Governing Council, they say that the ultimate security decisions in Baghdad still are being made by Mr. Bremer.

Asked if the Governing Council could veto a Turkish deployment, a senior State Department official said, “I don’t know the specific legal aspects of this, but in these matters, the coalition remains very much in charge of security and related issues.”

Washington has been keen to enlist troops from Muslim nations such as Turkey for Iraq duty, in part to ease the strain on U.S. forces and in part to allay suspicions in the Arab world about the coalition’s long-term intentions.

Turkey, a NATO ally with highly regarded troops, could supply as many of 10,000 soldiers to complement the 130,000 U.S. personnel in Iraq. About 30 nations now contribute troops and logistical support to the Iraqi mission, with Britain, Poland, Spain and Ukraine deploying the largest contingents.

The Turkish General Staff has told officers of two infantry brigades to prepare for possible duty, almost certainly in central or southern Iraq, well away from the Kurdish-dominated north.

The Governing Council has been at odds with U.S. authorities in the past, with Mr. Chalabi and others having criticized what they see as the slow pace of the transfer of power.

In another break with Washington, the Governing Council yesterday voted to condemn Israel’s air strike Saturday against Syria, calling the attack “a violation of international law.”

Turkish leaders, meanwhile, are anxious to mend fences with Washington after closing their border to U.S. troops during the Iraq war. Yesterday they took pains to emphasize the benign nature of their proposed mission.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “Turkish troops will serve in Iraq not as an occupation force, but as friends and brothers of the Iraqi people to help end the transition process as soon as possible.”

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul noted that the resolution limits any Turkish mission to at most a year.

“The fact that the deployment is limited to one year shows that Turkey will not be part of the occupation,” he said.

During his visit to Baghdad last month, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell acknowledged he found “extreme sensitivities” among Iraq’s new leaders about the prospect of Turkish troops.

Mr. Powell yesterday called Mr. Gul to thank him for the government’s efforts in parliament.

Washington lobbied hard for Turkey’s support, recently approving an $8.5 billion loan package to aid Turkey’s ailing economy. U.S. security officials visiting Ankara last week also agreed on an “action plan” of joint measures — including military cooperation — to combat a leading Kurdish separatist movement operating in northern Iraq.

One group that has welcomed Turkey’s entry is Iraq’s Turkomans, an ethnically Turkish minority that has clashed in the past with the Kurdish majority in Iraq’s north.

“A Turkish deployment, even in Sunni Arab regions [in the south], might be useful to better defend our rights,” said Faruk Abdullah Abdel-Rahman, new head of the Iraqi Turkoman Front.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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