U.S. ships unloaded in Turkey as buildup in northern Iraq resumes

Friday, March 7, 2003

ANKARA Turkey has resumed its military buildup in northern Iraq as renewed U.S. military activities were reported at Turkish ports and bases.

Turkey sent 200 military trucks to the Iraqi border on Thursday. Turkish sources and media reports said the trucks were loaded with munitions, communications equipment and other supplies.

The Turkish NTV news network said the trucks were believed headed toward northern Iraq. The television network said the Incerlik air force base has seen intensified activity after a lull of two days, Middle East Newsline reported.

Turkish sources also reported a resumption of U.S. military activities in the country. They said hundreds of trucks, carrying U.S. military vehicles, were unloaded at the Mediterranean port of Mersin. The trucks then headed south. Earlier this week, Turkish sources reported a suspension of a U.S. project to modernize Turkish bases and ports to prepare for the arrival of U.S. troops.

NTV television said the U.S. military has signed a contract with the Turkish State Railways Authority for the transportation of the cargo unloaded at Mersin port to southeastern Anatolia near the Iraqi border. The deal calls for the lease of 300 trains with 35 cars each to the U.S. Army.

A Turkish military statement confirmed the movement of troops and supplies across the Iraqi border. The statement termed the movements routine.

"The measures, which have been taken under totally normal procedures, are reflected as cross border movements," the General Staff said. "All movements of the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] are initial measures regarded with security, which takes place within purview of the TSK. They should not be misconceived."

The military plans to deploy up to 80,000 troops in northern Iraq to protect oil fields, protect the Turkmen minority and prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state. Last month, Turkey and the United States completed a memorandum of understanding on the conduct of a war in Iraq. The agreement was shelved amid parliament's failure on Saturday to agree to the deployment of up to 62,000 U.S. troops in Turkey.

On Thursday, President George Bush said the United States continues to examine the prospect of diverting troops from Turkey to Kuwait. But Bush indicated that he has not made such a decision.

"We've got contingencies in place should our troops not be allowed to come through Turkey," Bush said. "And, no, that won't cause any more hardship for our troops. I'm confident of that."

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