U.S. exasperated by Turkey's delays in sending troops to Iraq

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

ANKARA The United States has warned that it will revise its strategic relationship with Turkey unless Ankara agrees to deploy thousands of troops in Iraq.

U.S. officials have relayed messages to Turkey over the last two weeks that sought to stress the importance of a decision by Ankara to send at least 10,000 troops to Iraq. The officials, most of them from the Defense Department, have warned that Washington has deemed the Turkish troop presence in Iraq as a major test of strategic relations with Ankara.

Ankara, in turn, has demanded a detailed U.S. plan to eliminate the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, presence in northern Iraq. Over the weekend, PKK insurgents intensified their attacks in eastern Turkey and a Turkish soldier was killed, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Since the war in Iraq, our relations have seen a significant downturn," a senior U.S. official said. "We now see the question of a Turkish military presence in Iraq as the key issue in our strategic relations. If Turkey turns us down again, then there is an unmistakable conclusion that must be drawn."

The official said the administration has been increasingly dismayed over the delays by the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to reach a decision on Turkish deployment in Iraq. Washington has relayed three messages over the last month that discuss the consequences of Ankara's rejection of the U.S. request, the official said.

[On Monday, U.S. troops engaged in an eight-hour battle with Sunni insurgents near Khaldiyah. U.S. forces employed F-16 fighter-jets A-10 tank killers and combat helicopters against the insurgents.]

The Pentagon has taken the lead in downgrading relations with Turkey. In August, the Pentagon formally blocked Ankara's request for the transfer of U.S. technology for a Turkish electronic warfare project for Ankara's F-16 fleet.

BAe Systems Information and Electronic Warfare Systems, based in the U.S. city of Nashua, New Hampshire, has been designated as the prime contractor for the Turkish project. The Pentagon decision was said to have torpedoed the project, which was to have included the production and development of EW components in Turkey.

The Pentagon has also sought to link U.S. military and civilian aid to Turkey to the Iraqi deployment question. Last week, Ankara and Washington signed an agreement for $8.5 billion in U.S. loan guarantees to Turkey.

"According to Ankara's recent agreement with the United States for $8.5 billion in loans, our government must cooperate with Washington in Iraq and furthermore must not unilaterally deploy troops into northern Iraq," Semih Idiz, a Turkish analyst, wrote in the Aksam daily.

Turkish officials said the Erdogan government and the military have discussed a range of proposals with Washington over troop deployment in Iraq. They said the two sides appear in disagreement over such issues as the size of the force, the location of deployment and the fate of Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq.

The United States wants Turkish troops to be deployed in the Sunni Triangle near Baghdad about 250 kilometers from the Turkish border. The Turkish General Staff has relayed a plan for the deployment of troops about 150 kilometers from the border as well as the establishment of a string of military positions in northern Iraq to ensure the safely of Turkish troops and supplies.

On Thursday, a U.S. defense delegation was expected to arrive in Ankara to hold what could be the last round of talks with Turkey on troop deployment. The Erdogan government has assured Washington that it will relay the issue of Turkish troop deployment to parliament for a vote by the first half of October.

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