Turkey plans to invade northern Iraq

Special to World
Feb. 21, 2003, 2003

Turkey's military is planning to occupy northern Iraq to secure its interests during a U.S.-led war against the regime of President Saddam Hussein.

The military has drafted plans for up to 80,000 troops to cross the border into Iraq and capture oil-rich areas in the north and to establish safe haven areas for the estimated 1 million ethnic Turks in Iraq.

The military's high command has examined plans for a two-stage operation in northern Iraq that would ensure Ankara's interests in the country, Turkish sources said. Those interests are described as preventing the establishment of a Kurdish state, protecting the oil fields and securing the wellbeing of Iraq's Turkmen minority.

Turkey has briefed the United States on Ankara's plans for Iraq as part of an effort to complete an expanded military cooperation accord, the sources said. The United States has countered with an offer to protect Iraq's oil fields and the Turkmen minority during the course of the war. The two countries disagree over the size of Turkish military deployment and authority in Iraq.

The sources said the first part of Turkey's operation has already begun. About 20,000 Turkish troops are operating along the Iraqi-Turkish border, with most of them in Iraq at any given time.

The second stage of the Turkish operation will begin once the United States invades Iraq, the sources said. At that point, Turkey's military will head south and capture the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul as well as the surrounding areas populated by ethnic Turks.

The Turkish operation could move as deep as 250 kilometers within Iraq and result in deployment near Tikrit, the home of Saddam. Turkey would then have as many as 80,000 troops in Iraq, including special forces, logistics and supply units and paramilitary forces.

The sources said Ankara's military has insisted that it would not come under U.S. command in Iraq.

In that regard, Turkey has proposed that the United States establish two military commands to direct their cooperation during the war against Iraq. The first command would be in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir, which contains a major Turkish air base to be upgraded by the U.S. military, would serve as a joint U.S.-Turkish command. The two militaries would coordinate operations and deployment in northern Iraq.

The second proposed command would be located near Doha, the capital of Qatar. This command would be authorized to conduct the war throughout Iraq, particularly the invasion from Kuwait.

The sources said the Turkish proposal was meant to counter a U.S. insistence that Washington be solely responsible for operations in Iraq. The U.S. demand was relayed last week during the visit to Ankara by a special envoy of President George Bush, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Another dispute between Ankara and Washington concerns the size of Turkey's planned military deployment. The Turkish General Staff wants to deploy at least 80,000 troops in Iraq to protect oil fields and the Turkmen minority and to ensure that Kurdish separatists do not establish an independent state along the Turkish border.

The sources said Turkey has also proposed that its forces launch the invasion of northern Iraq and open major roads and secure the area. U.S. forces would then move through northern Iraq on their way to Baghdad.

On Feb. 17, U.S. military personnel continued to flow into Turkey for a project to modernize military bases and ports. Turkish sources said some 1,000 of the more than 3,500 U.S. engineers, technicians and other staff have already arrived.

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