Turkey's Erdogan okays 10,000 troops to Iraq

Friday, August 15, 2003

ANKARA The government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has quietly decided to send up to 10,000 Turkish troops to Iraq.

Officials said the decision would make Turkey the third biggest military participant in the U.S.-led effort to stabilize Iraq. They said the government decision would be sent for parliamentary approval next week, where it is expected to encounter significant opposition, Middle East Newsline reported.

The government decision was taken in coordination with the military's General Staff, officials said. They said both the military and government agreed that Turkish military deployment in Iraq was important for Ankara's relations with the United States as well as regional interests.

The Turkish military was said to have been swayed by a U.S. commitment to battle Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq who refuse to surrender under an amnesty offered by Ankara. So far, only a handful of Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, combatants have sought amnesty.

'They shouldn't pass up this opportunity," a U.S. official told the Ankara-based Hurriyet daily on Thursday. 'They must return to Turkey, otherwise they'll be finished off by U.S. forces."

It was not clear whether Turkey's military agreed on where to deploy troops in Iraq. Ankara and Washington were said to be in disagreement over the issue, with Turkey seeking a bolstered presence in northern Iraq and the United States insisting on Turkish deployment in the Sunni Triangle or southern Iraq. Ankara has also proposed a buffer zone in northern Iraq under United Nations supervision.

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"We don't consider [the PKK question] it a precondition," Turkish Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanit said. "But, of course we have certain expectations. The reason for us to be there is PKK terrorists. The United States knows this too. If this problem is solved, there would be no need for us to send soldiers there."

Officials said other details have yet to be worked out with the United States regarding the Turkish military presence in Iraq. They include the status of Turkish troops and the participation of their commanders in operations.

Turkey plans to send four official delegations to Iraq over the next week to examine the prospect of deploying Turkish troops. The delegations will be sent by the military, Foreign Ministry, parliament and intelligence services.

Officials said Turkey approved an amnesty law for Kurdish insurgents in cooperation with the United States. But they said few PKK members have responded to the amnesty offer.

About 5,000 PKK members are believed to be deployed in northern Iraq.

Only 14 PKK combatants in the northern mountains near the Turkish border have applied for amnesty. Another 906 applications for amnesty came from captured Kurdish insurgents who are serving jail sentences.

"We are not interested in applications from those already in jail," Buyukanit said. "What interests us are the terrorists based in the mountains. We have 14 applications from them."

For its part, the PKK has rejected Turkey's amnesty offer. The group has threatened to renew its offensive in September.

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