Turkey plans Iraq deployment in November

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

ANKARA Turkey plan to send its first troops to Iraq in November.

Turkish officials said the military's General Staff has ordered units to prepare for deployment in Iraq within the next month. They said several units have already been designated to participate in the first phase of the mission in Turkey's southern neighbor.

On Tuesday, Turkey's parliament approved a government proposal to deploy troops in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. The proposal, approved by a vote of 358 to 183, called for Turkish troops to be deployed in Iraq over the next year.

"The parliament's decision does not constitute a decision with immediate effect," Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said.

Officials said the General Staff has relayed orders to at least three units to prepare for the Iraqi mission. They are the 1st Tactical Division, the 9th Infantry Brigade and the 28th Mechanized Infantry Brigade.

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Turkey has expressed willingness to send up to 10,000 troops to Iraq to help quell the Sunni insurgency against the U.S.-led coalition. The United States wants Turkish forces based in an area that would start outside Baghdad and extend to the Iraqi borders with Jordan and Syria.

Turkey wants the deployment farther north and no more than 150 kilometers from its border. The General Staff also wants military positions in northern Iraq to ensure the safety of Turkish convoys that would transport soldiers and equipment to the area of deployment.

"Turkish armed forces will also perform the tasks of restoring public order and regulating and improving humanitarian aid and the economic infrastructure," the government proposal sent to parliament read.

Officials said the General Staff hopes to send no more than 4,500 soldiers to Iraq in a brigade formation. They said Ankara's military has been wooing Pakistan and another Muslim country to send a similar-sized force that would come under Turkish divisional command. If Pakistan fails to send sufficient troops, then Turkey's General Staff would consider sending up to 10,000 soldiers to Iraq.

Officials said Ankara and Washington would continue military talks to complete details on the area and size of deployment. They said the talks could include Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, who attended the NATO defense ministers meeting in Washington on Tuesday.

A key element in the decision on the size and area of deployment concerns the safety of the Turkish forces. On Monday, a convoy of Turkish oil truck drivers was attacked by insurgency forces about 180 kilometers south of Baghdad.

At least three drivers were killed and their trucks were destroyed in the attack outside the city of Bayji. On Tuesday, the Iraqi Governing Council expressed opposition to the deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq.

"It would be better to keep the number of foreign troops in Iraq as low as possible," Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leaer Barham Saleh said during a visit to Ankara. "The deployment of troops from Turkey or any other country may harm both Iraq's security and its political situation."

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