U.S. braces for 'massive' Turkish intervention in northern Iraq

Thursday, March 20, 2003

WASHINGTON — The United States appears resigned to the prospect that Turkey will intervene militarily in northern Iraq.

U.S. officials said the Bush administration has been unsuccessful in efforts to persuade Ankara to refrain from military intervention in northern Iraq. They said despite appeals and warnings from President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, Turkey has already deployed more than 20,000 troops in northern Iraq and plans major operations against suspected Kurdish insurgents.

"Turkey sees northern Iraq as part of its strategic zone of influence and nothing we have said has changed anything," an official said. "We can expect a massive Turkish military operation as soon as the war begins."

The officials said a Turkish operation against Kurdish insurgents would focus on the banned Kurdish Workers Party, thousands of members of which are believed deployed in northern Iraq. They said Turkey has also transferred weapons to the Turkmen, or ethnic Turkish majority, in what could spark ethnic battles in the area.

Bush's envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is said to have achieved little headway in efforts to prevent a Turkish military invasion of Iraq. Khalilzad has met Turkish leaders as well as help organize meetings between Kurdish military commanders and Ankara.

"We have been working with Turkey to make sure that we keep tensions on its northern border, on Iraq's northern border, at the lowest possible levels, and we expect the Turkish government, as well as the Iraqi parties, to be responsive to our concerns," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Wednesday.

So far, Turkish military commanders and officials have met two sets of Iraqi Kurdish opposition leaders. Turkey has insisted that Turkmen leaders attend the sessions as well.

The meetings have included Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani, who is regarded as the most pro-American figure in northern Iraq. Officials said the meetings have been tense.

Officials said Khalilzad's mission has been to ensure U.S.-Turkish-Kurdish military coordination to avoid clashes in northern Iraq. Khalilzad said Washington intends to capture the oil-rich cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

At the same time, Khalilzad wanted Ankara's commitment that Turkish troops would stay out of those cities. Officials said Turkey's response was noncommital.

"We're expecting a dirty war in northern Iraq," an official said. "I'm not sure we're going to be in the position to do anything about it."

On Wednesday, the Bush administration stressed that Ankara's agreement for U.S. use of Turkish air space for the war against Iraq would not warrant special U.S. aid to Turkey. "Overflights are routinely granted by other member nations without any questions of financial assistance or the need for dealing with any economic consequences," Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said.]

For their part, Turkey has refused to place limits on how many forces it would senČ to Iraq. On Thursday, Turkey's parliament is expected to vote on a new government request to send troops to northern Iraq. The government proposal also includes permission for U.S. use of Turkish air space.

"Their number will be as much as necessary," Turkish Cabinet spokesman Cemil Cicek said.

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