Turkish Parliament Refuses to Accept G.I.'s in Blow to Bush
By Dexter Filkins
New York Times
Saturday 01 March 2003
ANKARA, Turkey, March 1 - The Turkish Parliament today dealt a major setback to the Bush administration's plans for a northern front against Iraq, narrowly rejecting a measure that would have allowed thousands of American combat troops to use the country as a base for an attack.
More Turkish lawmakers supported the measure than opposed it, but the resolution failed because the total number of no votes and abstentions exceeded the numbers of favorable votes. Under the Turkish Constitution, a resolution can become law only if it is supported by a majority of the lawmakers present.
The final tally was 264 to 251, with 19 abstentions.
The defeat stunned American officials, who were confident that Turkey's leaders would be able to persuade the members of their party to support the measure. American ships had already begun unloading heavy equipment at Turkish ports in anticipation of a favorable vote, and more than a dozen vessels were idling off the coast.
In the turmoil after the parliamentary session, American diplomats said they were requesting a "clarification" of the vote.
The vote today came after weeks of negotiations between American and Turkish officials, largely over the economic assistance for Turkey in the event of a war with Iraq.
The defeat posed immediate military problems for American officials, who have been counting on Turkey's support to help with a northern front. A senior Pentagon official said today that the American military would be able to stage the operation without Turkey's help.
The defeat of the resolution was a stunning political blow as well. Turkey, one of the America's closest allies and a member of NATO, is a secular Muslim democracy whose support in the region the Bush administration has craved. Indeed, American officials have called Turkey a model for the type of system they are hoping that an invasion of Iraq would help bring about elsewhere in the Middle East.
The defeat was not expected by Turkey's leaders, who only hours before the vote had predicted that the Parliament would approve the measure. Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, and the chief of the governing Justice and Development Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had endorsed the measure, and both men had urged their party, which controls are large majority of the Parliament, to support it.
The resolution failed in large part because nearly 100 members of the party apparently voted against the measure or abstained. The American request had placed Turkey's leaders in a difficult situation, as polls here indicate that an overwhelming majority of the Turkish people oppose their country's involvement in a war against Iraq.
In an interview after the vote, Mr. Gul said Turkey's democratic system had spoken with finality. "Turkey is the only democratic country in the region," he said. "The decision is clear. We have to respect this decision, as this is what democracy requires."
The vote casts a shadow over the American-Turkish relationship, which Turkish officials said had come under great strain during the negotiations. As the discussions wore on and tales of American high-handedness spread, Turkish lawmakers and the Turkish public appeared to become more and more alienated.
"The relationship is spoiled," said Murat Mercan, a member of Parliament from the majority party. "The Americans dictated to us. It became a business negotiation, not something between friends. It disgusted me."
In Ankara, the United States Embassy said American ties with Turkey would not be threatened by the parliamentary vote, calling it democratic and one that would be respected by Washington. "We respect this as a democratic result ~W we will live with that," said an embassy spokesman. "We worked together as allies and we will continue to work together as allies."
The Turkish vote throws into question the ambitious military strategy that had been devised to overwhelm the forces of President Saddam Hussein. American military commanders wanted to begin an attack from Turkey in order to pin down Iraqi forces in the north, thus keeping them away from the main American force driving from the south.
A senior Pentagon official said today that the Turkish Parliament's vote would not alter the military's plans to try to stage tanks and other heavy equipment for the Fourth Infantry Division through Turkey into northern Iraq.
"I don't think it's that big a deal," the Pentagon official said. "As Secretary Rumsfeld likes to say, democracies aren't very tidy."
Even before the vote, American officials signaled that they were confident that American forces would probably be allowed to stage through Turkey. When asked on Friday whether the Pentagon was past the point where it needed a definitive answer from the Turks, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "No." Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld added, "We'll be all right."
Pentagon officials have said that Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the commander of American forces in the Persian Gulf, has backup plans for moving American forces into northern Iraq. "General Franks, as we speak, is looking at lots of options," General Myers said on Friday.
It was unclear tonight if there was an immediate impetus to the resolution's defeat, but several issues were still outstanding between the Turks and the Americans. The main sticking point was the American insistence that the Turks continue to adhere to a two-year-old agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which has imposed strict conditions on Turkish lawmakers to reform their economy in exchange for billions of dollars in loans.
With the Americans promising $6 billion in direct aid, Turkish officials wanted to be able receive the money before striking any new agreement with the fund. American officials were worried that Turkey, armed with the American cash, would walk away from the fund, thus defeating the purpose of the American aid, which was to maintain confidence in the Turkish economy in the event of war. The United States has insisted that Turkey adhere to strict standards maintaining its credit worthiness.
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