Turkey Delays Vote on Allowing In U.S. Troops for Iraq War
By Dexter Filkins
New York Times
Thursday 27 February 2003
ISTANBUL Turkey's leaders postponed a scheduled parliamentary vote today on whether to allow American combat troops to use the country as a base against Iraq. The move came amid indications that the ruling party was having difficulty mustering the necessary support.
Turkish officials said the vote would be held on Saturday. That would allow time for Prime Minister Abdullah Gul and other senior leaders to meet with the country's senior military leaders, who are believed to support the American plan.
The decision to delay the vote on American troops followed statements made today by a spokesman for Turkey's president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, that the Constitution required Parliament to find that the operation involving the deployment of American troops had "international legitimacy." Many Turks have interpreted that as a call for Parliament to wait for a second United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
Turkey's president cannot veto a parliamentary resolution authorizing troops, but his opinion is considered important here. One senior Turkish official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said his country's leadership was so worried about the potential political fallout from a vote to allow American troops that the president's comments had prompted the delay until after a meeting of Turkey's national security council, which the president chairs.
"They are worried about the day after the vote," the Turkish official said.
Turkey's military, which has intervened in domestic politics repeatedly over the years, is thought to favor allowing American troops. The Turkish official said the country's elected leaders might be trying to use the meeting to protect themselves politically, by suggesting that it was the generals who suggested that they support the measure.
Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the governing Justice and Development Party, has signaled his support for the resolution and predicted that his party will come together for the vote. But there were indications that many members of the party, which commands a large majority, might not be willing to go along.
"I don't think it is correct for Turkey to be part of such an American invasion," Ibrahim Hakki Askar, a legislator from the Justice and Development Party, said in an interview. "A serious group of electors are against this war."
The United States has been trying for weeks to persuade Turkey's leaders to open up its bases to American troops for an invasion of Iraq. But the agreement has bogged down on a number of issues, including economic aid and the possible intervention of Turkish troops in northern Iraq.
Today, Turkey's defense minister, Vecdi Gonul, said his government had reached an agreement with the Americans on military issues, including the deployment of soldiers into northern Iraq.
The issue is a sensitive one, with the deployment opposed by the Kurds of northern Iraq, where they have set up an autonomous region apart from that ruled by President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
Turkey wants to send troops into the region to prevent refugees from fleeing to Turkey from Iraq, and to prevent the Iraqi Kurds from setting up their own state. The Turks fear that a Kurdish state in Iraq may stoke similar designs in their own Kurdish regions.
Under the agreement, according to Turkish officials, Turkish soldiers would venture no deeper than about 12 miles into Iraq and would be under Turkish command.
The agreement also allows Turkish soldiers to observe the disarmament of Kurdish militias, which would be expected to follow the defeat of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of a new national army. The Turkish soldiers would also observe the arming of any Kurdish soldiers carried out, presumably, by the American military in preparation for an attack war against Mr. Hussein's forces.
A Turkish government official said the Turks had given up a demand that they take part in the disarming of the Kurds, which Kurdish leaders in Iraq had vowed to resist.
Under the agreement, the Turkish military would also stay away from the northern Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Mosel. They would be left to the American forces.
Mr. Erdogan said in a television interview that the number of Turkish troops entering northern Iraq would be double those sent in by the Americans. He suggested that they might venture deeper into the country if the need arose.
"They may go further down if necessary; it is not certain," Mr. Erdogan said.
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