ANKARA Ñ Turkey has agreed to delay a major ground
force invasion of Iraq after pressure from the United States.
Turkish officials said the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan
has agreed to suspend plans for an immediate entry of tens of thousands of
soldiers into Iraq until Ankara and Washington conclude military cooperation
and coordination in the region. Turkey has amassed about 40,000 troops along
the Iraqi border.
Turkish officials said 15,000 troops are already in northern Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.
Ankara is expected to delay any invasion of Iraq until at least the
weekend. On Friday, Turkey's National Security Council, chaired by President
Ahmed Sezer, will discuss military plans to enter northern Iraq and attack
strongholds of the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK.
The suspension of the Turkish invasion comes amid serious disagreement
between Ankara and Washington in talks on the future of Iraq. The
United States wants talks to be limited to military cooperation while
Ankara has demanded guarantees that it would receive a major role in the
future of northern Iraq.
"We have taken into account the sensitivities of the United States and
the European Union on northern Iraq," Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hilmi
Ozkok said. "As of now, Turkey has no plan to enter the region."
Turkish officials have played down the disagreement and said Ankara and
Washington reached a compromise on the Turkish mission in northern Iraq.
They said the United States has agreed that an unspecified number of Turkish
soldiers would ensure border security and prevent the influx of refugees
from Iraq. Washington has not confirmed the Turkish report.
Tensions were said to have eased over the last two days amid a Bush
administration request for $1 billion in grants to Turkey. Erdogan has
dropped his demand for advance notice for U.S. flights and Turkish
authorities have allowed the unloading of U.S. helicopters and other
military equipment at the port of Iskenderun. The shipment was held up for
"There is nothing negative in our talks with the Americans," Turkish
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said. "Everything is moving forward with
coordination and mutual understanding."
On Tuesday, U.S. presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad continued talks
with Turkish leaders on military operations in northern Iraq. The United
States has rejected any Turkish intervention and pledged that it would not
allow Kurdish troops to enter the major cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.
"We've had a lot of pretty direct discussions with them to make clear
our concerns," U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said. "They have
legitimate concerns in northern Iraq, but the way to make sure that those
get taken care of is working through us, not by intervening unilaterally.
We've tried to make that clear."
Currently, Turkish officials said, nearly 15,000 Turkish soldiers are in
northern Iraq. They said several thousand U.S. special operations forces are
in the Kurdish enclave and are helping direct cruise missile and air attacks
against Al Qaida-aligned forces near the Iranian border.