U.S. to increase protection for Turkish truck drivers to Iraq

Friday, December 3, 2004

ANKARA Iraq and the United States have agreed to increase efforts to protect Turkish truckers who supply the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq.

Turkish officials said representatives of the three countries agreed to launch additional security measures during a meeting in Ankara on Nov. 30.

They said Iraq and the United States have urged Turkey to enable its nationals to work for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has expressed concern over Sunni insurgency attacks on Turkish truckers and other citizens employed by the U.S. military in the Sunni Triangle. Officials said Turks, particularly truckers, have become the leading targets of the insurgents.

Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu said 66 Turkish citizens were killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led war in that country in March 2003. Aksu, speaking at a meeting of Middle East interior ministers in Teheran, said 16 Turkish nationals have been taken hostage, while another 16 were reported missing.

Officials said Iraq and the United States pledged to increase protection of Turkish convoys that travel to U.S. and other coalition military bases in Iraq. They said other measures would include equipment and arrangements to help maintain communications with Turkish drivers when they cross the southern border into Iraq.

Over the last six months, several Turkish contractors for the U.S. military have announced their departure from Iraq. Their decision was said to have harmed the effort to supply the U.S.-led coalition, particularly in northern and western Iraq.

Baghdad has tried to obtain the cooperation of its neighbors in halting the flow of insurgents to Iraq. On Wednesday, Iraq called on the Middle East interior ministers who met in Teheran to extradite those suspected of funding the Iraqi insurgency.

Saudi Arabia has opposed the proposal in what was described as a stormy session. Still, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Lari said representatives from Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey agreed to increase border security.

"We agreed to step up security cooperation so that the borders can be controlled better," Lari said. "Border control is a top priority."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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