No Delight at Turkish Troop Plan

Region's best army poised to commit forces to coalition, but Iraqi response is hostile.

No Delight at Turkish Troop Plan

Region's best army poised to commit forces to coalition, but Iraqi response is hostile.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

As the United States tries to convince the United Nations to send international peacekeepers to Iraq, its diplomats are pressuring Turkey to send 10,000 troops to shore up the 140,000 US soldiers leading the coalition forces.

But the American government, anxious to include troops from Muslim countries in its international force, appears to be alone in its enthusiasm for Turkish participation. In Turkey itself, the public is not supportive. And in Iraq, even fewer people are keen to see them come.

Many interim Governing Council members have been vocal in their opposition to any Turkish deployment. Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said the council rejected "any participation by troops from neighbouring countries in the international force".

Ordinary Iraqis are less diplomatic. "Let the Turks come, and you will see what we do to them," said Hama Rashid, a coffee-shop owner in Dohuk, a city near the Turkish border.

Iraq was part of the Ottoman empire, and only gained independence after Turkish rule crumbled 80 years ago. "Tribal leaders and elderly people in central and southern Iraq still remember Turkish oppression," said Haytham Husseini, a researcher in strategic studies.

Many Iraqis are convinced that Turkey still has imperialist ambitions. They cite continuing interference in Kirkuk, ostensibly on behalf of the Turkoman minority there. In addition, Turkey has repeatedly staged military incursions into Iraq over the past decade in pursuit of guerrillas from the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK. People in Kurdish parts of Iraq are concerned that Turkey could exploit its troop presence to come storming through their areas, hunting down the remnants of the PKK.

Bringing 10,000 Turkish troops to Iraq would "ignite old historical and ethnic problems that the Iraqis do not need today," said Munquith Muhammed Daghir, a strategic studies researcher who lives in Baghdad. "An external solution will not serve security and stability in Iraq."

The Turkish parliament is due to decide on whether to send the troops after it returns from summer recess on October 1. If it does decide to join the coalition, it will be a complete turnaround from the position it took in March, when deputies voted against allowing US forces to use Turkey to open a major northern front against Saddam Hussei's forces. Adding insult to injury, the Turks then threatened a unilateral deployment of forces to northern Iraq in April, and it took considerable US dissuasion to stop them doing so.

This time round, it seems the US-led coalition wants to see Turkish troops based in Sunni Arab rather than Kurdish areas - in the city of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, and in the governorates of Salah-al-Din and Anbaar.

Turkish officials have been at pains to stress that troops will only be dispatched after consultation with Iraqi leaders. Turkey's ambassador in Baghdad, Osman Baksot, has said that "Turkish troops will not enter Iraqi land without the consent of the Iraqis".

"The Iraqi people don't see Turkish soldiers as invaders," foreign minister Abdullah Gul told the leading Turkish daily Cumhuriyet. "They trust our soldiers."

As the deal becomes more and more likely, the Turkish authorities may seek a new UN resolution as a way of assuaging the public, which is largely hostile to the idea. Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer is opposed to any deployment without UN backing.

Successfully recruiting the Turkish military - the biggest army in the region - could be a major boost for the US administration as it seeks to impose order in Iraq. But if the deployment fails to deliver impressive results, or if it is perceived as meddling by a country with its own agenda in Iraq, it could spell disaster for Iraq, exacerbate regional tensions, and compromise the US position.

Adnan K. Karim is a former rear-admiral in the Iraqi navy.

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