U.S. dismayed as Turkish troops pour into northern Iraq

Sunday, March 23, 2003

The United States has formally abandoned the prospect of a northern front in the war against Iraq as Turkey has once again balked at cooperating with the U.S. war effort.

But what is looming as a major crisis is the danger that Turkey will militarily pursue its own agenda in northern Iraq.

Washington has been dismayed by the invasion of Turkish troops into northern Iraq. Officials said thousands of Turkish troops have crossed the border into Iraq in an operation that was not coordinated with the United States.

"It would be notably unhelpful if [Turkish troops] went into the north in large numbers," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

Turkey has denied an invasion of Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. But at the same time Turkish authorities are believed preparing to expel foreign journalists along the Iraqi-Turkish border.

"As an independent state Turkey does whatever it pleases," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said. "We don't want to be misunderstood and therefore we are discussing the issue with our ally."

U.S. officials said Turkey has proven uncooperative in efforts to send American troops through that country and toward Iraq. They said Ankara has also delayed its agreement to allow U.S. aircraft through Turkish air space for strikes on Iraq.

Officials said dozens of U.S. warships waiting off the Turkish coast were ordered to leave the eastern Mediterranean and head for the Persian Gulf. The ships were said to be containing about 20,000 troops from the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry division.

U.S. Central Command has been aiding pro-U.S. Kurdish elements in an offensive against Al Qaida forces in northern Iraq. U.S. officials said about 50 cruise missiles were fired at positions of the Ansar Islam, aligned to Al Qaida and supported by the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

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