Originally created 02/25/03

Turkish Cabinet agrees to U.S. combat troop deployment



ANKARA, Turkey -- Ending a high stakes diplomatic standoff, Turkey's Cabinet agreed Monday to the deployment of tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops ahead of a possible war in Iraq.

The measure is expected to face a vote in Turkey's parliament on Tuesday.

The announcement comes as U.S. ships loaded with tanks and other armor awaited orders off the Turkish coast.

It followed a more than six-hour Cabinet meeting, a sign of the deep difficulties during the U.S.-Turkish talks.

The agreement to allow the troops in has been delayed by weeks of tense negotiations. The deadlock was finally broken late last week, when Washington offered Turkey $5 billion in aid and $10 billion in loans to cushion the Turkish economy from the impact of any war.

Washington wants to use Turkey to open a northern front in a war in Iraq, a strategy that would divide the Iraqi army.

A U.S. official said talks between the two sides on the details of the agreement are expected to continue throughout the day.

An overwhelming majority of Turks oppose any war in neighboring Iraq, fearing that it would further weaken Turkey's already fragile economy.

Turkish leaders have demanded assurances that the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will not lead to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. A Kurdish state, Turkey fears, will boost aspirations of Turkey's Kurdish rebels.

To prevent this, Turkey wants to send tens of thousands of troops into northern Iraq in case of war. Ankara also fears that a war will push hundreds of thousands of refugees toward Turkey.

Many observers say the military move may actually aim at preventing the creation of a Kurdish state in the autonomous areas of northern Iraq that border Turkey.

Kurdish groups living in those areas say they strongly oppose any Turkish deployment.

Turkey and the United States also are still discussing command of any Turkish troops in northern Iraq, the disarmament after a war of Iraqi Kurdish groups and the control of two northern Iraqi oil fields, Turkey's Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the governing Justice and Development Party, has said that he would not order his lawmakers to vote in favor of the deployment. He said he hoped "his friends would act toward the authorization." The Justice party has a large majority in parliament.

On Monday, a NATO mission to help defend Turkey against a potential Iraqi attack got under way with the departure of a planeload of equipment and support units from Germany.

Turkey, a member of NATO, fears that Baghdad might launch a counterattack if it supports the United States.