U.S. fears execution may halt Turkish deliveries to N. Iraq

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

BAGHDAD The U.S. military fears Turkey could halt supplies of fuel and equipment to troops in northern Iraq.

U.S. officials said the abduction and execution of at least one Turkish hostage by Sunni insurgents have sparked alarm within Turkey's government, parliament and transport industry. They said military units in northern Iraq rely on daily shipments of food, fuel and other supplies from neighboring Turkey.

At least two truck drivers, out of eight missing Turkish nationals, have been held hostage in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The issue has a potential to snowball and combine with a host of other Turkish government complaints regarding the coalition policy in northern Iraq, particularly in connection with the PKK," an official said.

So far, Turkey's leading truckers' group has announced a halt in the transport of cargo to U.S. military forces in Iraq. The International Transporters Association, known by its Turkish acronym, UND, said the suspension of deliveries began on Aug. 2.

"It is obvious that security and stability in Iraq cannot yet be maintained," the Istanbul-based association said in a statement. "Given the current circumstances, UND decided to stop the transport of cargo for American troops in Iraq."

The announcement led to an immediate drop in the number of Turkish trucks entering Iraq. CNN-Turk television station reported on Tuesday that 1,400 trucks entered Iraq through the Harbur border gate. About 2,000 trucks a day had been using the border facility.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry, which has sent Washington a series of warnings over deteriorating security along Turkey's southern border, coordinated with the truckers association in its decision to withdraw from Iraq, officials said. They said the ministry distributed the announcement by the association of its withdrawal from Iraq to Arab satellite stations. At the same time, several parliamentarians have called on the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to ban Turkish nationals from Iraq.

The association said Turkish cargo to the U.S. military covers up to three percent of trade between Iraq and Turkey. The U.S. military has also received supplies from Jordan and Kuwait.

Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi, regarded as the most lethal insurgent in Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the execution of a Turkish national who worked in a U.S. military base in northern Iraq. In a statement, Al Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad Group warned that other Turkish hostages would be killed unless Ankara withdrew its presence from Iraq.

The association's head, Cahit Soysal, said up to 300 Turkish trucks have brought daily supplies to U.S. troops in northern Iraq. Soysal said he hoped the withdrawal by his association would persuade Sunni insurgents in Iraq to release two other Turkish truck drivers.

Turkish truck drivers have been urged not to enter Iraq until the abductions end. Reslan Tabur, chairman of the Association of Truck and Bus Drivers in Gaziantep, warned truck drivers not to enter Iraq until the Turkish military guarantees their security.

"If Turkey wants to send goods to Iraq," Tabur said, "it should establish a secure zone near the border under the control of the Turkish military. The Americans should make the deliveries from that zone."

Officials said they believe Al Zarqawi has been aided by Turkish supporters of Al Qaida. They said at least one Al Zarqawi agent was heard speaking Turkish in the video of the execution.

The Turkish news channel NTV identified the Turkish collaborator of Al Zarqawi in the video as Habip Aktas. Aktas was said to have masterminded a series of suicide car bombings in Istanbul in November 2003 that killed about 65 people.

On Wednesday, Tawhid and Jihad announced it would release two Turkish hostages amid the decision by the truckers association to withdraw from Iraq.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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