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Top Turkish general fears Kurds will be new U.S. ally vs. Iraq

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Tuesday, March 4, 2003

ANKARA Turkey's military has quietly warned the government that the Kurds south of Turkey in northern Iraq will emerge as the primary U.S. ally unless Ankara and Washington cooperate in the expected war against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok briefed Prime Minister Abdullah Gul on the military's assessment of the expected war against Iraq. The briefing came in wake of parliament's rejection of the government request for U.S. troops in Turkey on Saturday and the subsequent refusal by Ankara's military to allow U.S. officers to cross the border into Iraq.

Kurdish forces have warned that they will treat Turkish troops crossing the border into Iraq as the enemy. The warning has alarmed Turkish military leaders, who have asked the Bush administration to intervene, Middle East Newsline reported.

"There is no reason anymore for Washington to consider Turkey's interests in northern Iraq," a Turkish military source said. "If the United States acts alone in northern Iraq, then the Kurds will be the main military ally of Washington."

[On Monday, parliamentary speaker Bulent Arinc ruled out the reintroduction of the government request for up to 62,000 U.S. troops. "The motion regarding the dispatch of Turkish soldiers abroad and deployment of foreign armed forces in Turkey should not be submitted to parliament again in the same way," Arinc said.]

Ozkok was said to have warned Gul that parliament's rejection of the U.S. military presence would threaten the prospect of cooperation between Ankara and Washington regarding the future of Iraq. The general asserted on Sunday that without a U.S. military umbrella Turkish troops in northern Iraq would be under threat from Kurdish forces.

"If Turkish troops enter the northern Iraq, this would cost Turkey," Ozkok was quoted as saying. "It wouldn't be appropriate for the TSK [Turkish military] to enter the northern Iraq under these conditions as it didn't get enough support from the United States."

[In Washington, the Bush administration acknowledged that Turkey's rejection of U.S. troops could be final. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the administration would reassess U.S. war plans as well as relations with Ankara. "Turkey is reviewing its options," Fleischer said on Monday.

"The United States is reviewing its options. And I think it's impossible to make any judgments beyond that at this time."]

Western intelligence sources said Turkey has deployed a division, or about 20,000 troops, in northern Iraq. They said Turkey had planned to deploy up to 80,000 troops in northern Iraq during the war against Baghdad.

Turkish military sources said parliament's rejection of a U.S. troop deployment in Turkey has torpedoed a draft memorandum of understanding with Washington on the conduct of the war in Iraq. Under the MoU, Ankara would be allowed to deploy tens of thousands of troops in northern Iraq under Turkish military command as well as receive billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

The military sources said the Gul government has been told that Washington does not plan to wait for a Turkish reversal of the parliamentary decision. They said the U.S. Defense Department has prepared plans to divert at least two divisions to Kuwait and airlift special operations forces from the Mediterranean over Israel and Jordan and directly to northern Iraq.

"The greatest nightmare would come to be true if the United States goes ahead without Turkey and wins the war against Iraq," Turkish analyst Ali Nihat Ozcan said. "In this case, it will have no responsibility to ask Turkey's opinion on how to restructure Iraq."

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