Turkey proposes deal with U.S. for deploying its troops to Iraq

Thursday, July 31, 2003

ANKARA Turkey has agreed to a deal with the United States that would exchange Ankara's troop deployment in Iraq for the elimination of a Kurdish insurgency group.

Turkish officials said Chief of Staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok has based his agreement to send at least 3,000 troops to Iraq on a U.S. pledge to destroy the Kurdish Workers Party, also known as the PKK or Kadek. The officials said Ankara expects the United States to either operate against PKK insurgents in northern Iraq or allow Turkey's military to do so.

"Turkey is clearly the most important country capable of contributing to peace and stability in the region," a Turkish military source said. "But Turkey's support depends entirely upon how the PKK issue is resolved between Ankara and Washington. The United States should surrender PKK militants to Turkey along with their weapons."

Both the military as well as the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan have approved the deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. Ozkok said the military would be ready to send troops to Iraq within 45 days of a formal decision.

On Wednesday, Erdogan and Ozkok met to discuss the U.S. request. The two men agreed to send a Turkish military delegation to Iraq in August to meet U.S. Central Command officials.

Officials said Turkey expects the U.S. military to launch an offensive against an estimated 5,000 PKK insurgents in northern Iraq. They said Washington has been pressed to extradite PKK fugitives as well as confiscate their weapons.

In return, officials said, Turkey will send at least 3,000 troops to the Sunni Triangle for a peacekeeping operation. The troops will be located north of Baghdad and near Tikrit, both strongholds of deposed President Saddam Hussein.

Turkey has also agreed to pass legislation that would provide amnesty or reduced sentences for Kurdish insurgents who surrender to Turkey. The legislation has been approved by the government and parliament.

The Turkish offer to Washington was relayed by Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul during his visit to Washington last week. Gul met Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, both of whom were eager to obtain Ankara's approval for military deployment in Iraq.

The officials said the United States has agreed to Turkey's offer. They said they expect the United States to approve a deadline for PKK surrender before any military offensive.

In an unrelated development, Turkey announced that it would stage a joint search and rescue naval exercise with Israel and the United States. The exercise, termed Mermaid, would take place on Aug. 13 in the eastern Mediterranean.

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