U.S. shelves bid for Turkish troops after opposition by Iraqis

Thursday, October 30, 2003

ANKARA The United States has quietly shelved its proposal for Turkey to send up to 10,000 combat troops to Iraq.

Turkish officials and Western diplomatic sources said the Bush administration has suspended a formal request to Turkey to send troops to Iraq. They said the suspension came in wake of a Defense Department recommendation that Turkish troops would only heighten the Sunni insurgency against the U.S.-led coalition.

The suspension of the U.S. request marks a reversal after months of efforts to persuade Ankara to send troops to Iraq. Officials said the administration was surprised by the intense opposition of the Iraqi Governing Council to the proposal, Middle East Newsline reported.

"First they came, very enthusiastic, and said 'Please do not be late,'" Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said on Tuesday. "And then they saw that there are many different issues. They have many hesitations themselves."

At first, officials said, the Pentagon assessed that the Iraqi opposition to Turkish deployment was limited to Kurdish representatives on the council. Later, the entire council, including representatives of the Turkish-speaking minority, stressed that it opposes the deployment of troops by any of Iraq's neighbors.

The decision to suspend the U.S. request was taken last week during the visit by U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, to Washington. Bremer discussed the issue with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and diplomatic sources said the three decided to shelve the U.S. plan for Turkish troops in Iraq.

Turkish officials said the United States has not formally told Ankara of the decision to suspend the request for troops. But the administration has urged Turkey to discuss the troop deployment issue with the interim Iraqi Governing Council.

[In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Turkish and Iraqi officials have already begun meeting on a range of bilateral issues. "We do think it's important for them to have a dialogue with the Iraqis," Boucher said on Tuesday. "There are many issues involved, not just deployment of Turkish troops, but the whole question of relationships with their neighbors; that it's important for Iraq to explore in this fashion through having their own direct contacts."]

Earlier this month, Turkey's military General Staff launched preparations for initial deployment in Iraq during November. But the Pentagon, which had proposed the deployment of Turkish soldiers along the Euphrates River, refused to continue talks over such issues as the area and size of Turkish deployment.

Officials said the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has been pleased by the U.S. suspension of military talks with Turkey. They said Erdogan and his aides were increasingly concerned that Turkish troops would be the target of attacks by Saddam loyalists and Al Qaida.

But Turkey does not plan to withdraw an estimated 4,000 troops from northern Iraq, officials said. Gul said Turkey's military would remain deployed in northern Iraq until what he calls the terrorist threat is eliminated, a reference to the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK.

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