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Sorry, No Troops For Iraq, Turkey Says

by Hilmi Toros

about Bush failure to build coalition
(IPS) ISTANBUL -- Turkey's decision not to send troops to Iraq was welcomed by Iraqis and Turks, but seen as a setback to the United States.

Turkey acted Friday after the United States acknowledged that Turkish troops would receive an unfriendly reception, if not resistance. The Turkish government had obtained parliamentary authorization under intense U.S. insistence earlier to dispatch as many as 10,000 troops the first major force from a Muslim nation.

The United States had expected that Iraq would readily accept forces from NATO and that its war burdens would lessen. The Turkish troops were seen also as opening the way for troops from other Muslim nations.

Turkey's parliamentary approval is valid for one year, and Turkey could still send troops in the next 11 months. But few expect changes in Iraq's anti-Turkish sentiment.

"We were never eager (to send troops)," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said after Friday's decision. Opinion polls show that more than 60 percent of Turks opposed to active involvement in Iraq.

Antiwar protests ceased in Turkey after the government announcement, and the military immediately stopped preparations.

The United States now sees no role for Turkish troops over the next six months. It is counting on recruitment from within Iraq for security as it reduces its forces to 100,000 from 132,000.

"It is clear that the Iraqi Governing Council members managed to convince the U.S. chief administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, that only a new Iraqi security force composed of militia members could really handle the security situation," says Ilnur Cevik, editor of the English-language Turkish Daily News.

But banking on security from Iraqi forces, particularly Kurds in the north and Shias in the south, raises prospects of a "warlord" culture, says Cevik. "The Americans should be aware that once they invaded Iraq, they let the cat out of the bag."

Turkey's decision demonstrated publicly that the United States underestimated Iraqi opposition to troops from Turkey, including opposition from within the interim government installed by the United States.

Both Arabs and Kurds worry about Turkey's interest in the region. The Ottoman empire, which preceded modern day Turkey, once ruled Iraq, and Turkey still has keen interest in developments in the Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq, including the Kirkuk and Mosul oilfields it once owned.

Turkey acknowledges its interest in the region and justified its willingness to send troops on the ground that a unified Iraq was in its national interest. It fears that a break-up of Iraq could lead to an independent Kurdistan in the north, and spark similar aspirations among its own Kurds, who comprise 20 percent of its population of 70 million people.

A guerrilla war waged by Turkish Kurds against the government cost more than 30,000 lives before the military gained control in Kurd-dominated regions four years ago. Some 5,000 Turkish Kurds are still believed to be living in mountains across the border in Iraq. Turkey deploys a special force of 1,000 in Iraq.

Iraqi Kurds are emerging as a major force as they push for a strong Kurdish entity in a federal Iraq. They have allied themselves with the United States against Saddam Hussein as Turkey refused to join the invasion of Iraq in March despite persistent U.S. demand.

Since then, Kurds have been exerting greater authority in northern Iraq, which includes Arabs and an ethnic Turkish minority called Turkmens. They hold key portfolios in the interim government, including that of the foreign minister. Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani has recently assumed the rotating presidency of the 24-member Governing Council.

Iraqi Kurds, joined by other Arab groups, opposed Turkish troops minutes after the Turkish parliament authorized troops to be sent to Iraq.

The United States could not sway Kurds to accept Turkish troops, leading Turkey's Ambassador to Washington to comment that the United States was favoring the Kurds, a charge the State Department denied. The United States has assured Turkey publicly that it will work to eliminate Kurdish guerrillas, but without specifying how.

The main consolation for Turkey is that it complied with the U.S. request. The move sought to restore the strategic partnership with the United States that was disrupted after its refusal to join the U.S. invasion.

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Albion Monitor November 8, 2003 (

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