Oct 8, 12:54 AM EDT
Turkey OKs Troops for Iraq; Iraq Doesn't
By LOUIS MEIXLER
Associated Press Writer
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Parliament voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to give the government permission to send Turkish peacekeepers to Iraq, but members of Iraq's interim council opposed the move, a sign of the problems Washington faces as it tries to assemble a peacekeeping force.
The United States has been pressing Turkey for months to send what would be the first major Muslim contingent of peacekeepers, a deployment that would enhance the credibility of the American-led force in Iraq by demonstrating Muslim support.
Turkey's parliament voted 358-183 to allow the government to dispatch troops, a move top officials said would improve ties with Washington and help give Turkey a say in the future of Iraq.
"An Iraq that is in peace, that is on good terms with its neighbors, an Iraq that is stable is in Turkey's interests," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said.
In Washington, White House press secretary Scott McClellan applauded the Turkish vote, saying: "We welcome that decision and we will be working with Turkish officials on the details of their decision."
Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed his appreciation to Gul in a telephone conversation, saying that the United States would be working with Turkey and Iraq on putting it into effect, a senior U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
The motion gives the government the power to send troops, but provides no details as to when, where or how many soldiers would be deployed. Those matters are expected to be worked out in talks with Washington that could take weeks or even months.
"The decision that came out of parliament is not one that will be executed immediately, this instant," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "Time will decide. The process will depend on developments."
The 15-member U.S.-appointed Governing Council of Iraq met at about the same time as the Turkish parliament.
"After long deliberations we reached consensus on issuing a statement opposing the arrival of Turkish troops," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the council. "The council already has said it does not want other foreign troops in the country."
He said, however, that the release of the statement was delayed for a time Tuesday, apparently due to pressure from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. The council is likely to defer to the United States on issues involving security.
Gul dismissed the Iraqi council's action.
"Members with Kurdish origins thought that way, but in the end they decided that it wouldn't be right," he said when asked about the statement.
But Gul also seemed to address some of their concerns.
"Turkey has no secret designs over Iraq," he added. "We won't be going there to prolong the occupation, on the contrary to shorten it."
Council members have repeatedly said that they would prefer if peacekeepers are not sent from neighboring countries.
The Turkish Ottoman Empire ruled today's Iraq for about 400 years until World War I. For some 15 years, Turkey fought Turkish Kurdish rebels who now have bases in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, a fight that killed 37,000 people.
Turkey fears that Kurds living in an autonomous area of northern Iraq could declare independence, which might provoke Turkish Kurdish rebels.
Turkish officials have emphasized that any deployment would aim at ending instability in Iraq, chaos that Turks fear could spread in the region.
"Without a doubt this (possible deployment) shouldn't be thought of just as a military force. It will include aid and services for the Iraqi people," Gul said.
Washington has asked Turkey to contribute some 10,000 soldiers and officials have said any soldiers are most likely to be deployed in the Sunni Muslim areas of central Iraq, where hostility toward the U.S. forces is the highest.
The Bush administration has made a worldwide call for money and troops to help rebuild Iraq. The United States has 130,000 troops in Iraq, and other countries have more than 20,000, including around 70 from the mostly Muslim nation of Albania.
The United States hopes that having a major Muslim nation in its coalition in Iraq will counter the image among many Arabs that the U.S.-led administration is a Christian occupation of a Muslim nation.
The Turkish lawmakers' vote was a major victory for the government. In March, after months of talks with
Washington, the government asked parliament to let U.S. troops in for the Iraq war. Lawmakers rejected that motion despite strong support from the government, sparking tensions with the United States.
Washington agreed to lend Turkey $8.5 billion to support its economy, but has made clear that the loan hinges on Turkey's "cooperation in Iraq."
Tuesday's vote is likely to boost the government's credibility as it negotiates with Washington. A majority of Turks oppose sending troops and the government is expected to act cautiously before sending any soldiers.
"The vote has strengthened our government's hand," said Murat Mercan, the deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.