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Turkish Leaders to Discuss Iraq During Mideast Tour

The leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party says the support of leading Arab countries is needed in the event of a U.S.-led war against Iraq. Tayyib Erdogan said Turkish leaders would be traveling to major Arab capitals in coming days to sound out Arab leaders for their views on Iraq.

In remarks published in the pro-establishment daily Milliyet, Mr. Erdogan said he would be sending Prime Minister Abdullah Gul on a tour of the Middle East.

Mr. Erdogan stressed the importance of countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, saying their consent is necessary for possible military action against Iraq. Otherwise, he warned Turkey, which shares borders with Iraq and Syria would be isolated.

Turkey could be a key player in any attack on Iraq. The United States says it wants Turkey to allow use of its bases and ports and has also sought Turkey's permission to deploy U.S. troops in southern Turkey from where they would push into Iraqi territory.

Turkey has strong reservations about toppling Saddam Hussein, and insists military action against Iraq needs to be authorized by the United Nations.

Turkish officials are especially concerned that the Iraqi Kurds who control the northern third of Iraq would exploit the turmoil that would likely follow Saddam Hussein's removal to set up an independent Kurdish state. That in turn, their argument runs, would stir up nationalist sentiment among Turkey's own restive Kurdish population.

Mr. Erdogan earlier suggested that his government would hold a referendum on whether to take part in a war against Iraq. Recent opinion polls show a great majority of Turks opposed a war against their southern neighbor.

In a related development the Turkish General Staff on Wednesday denied media reports of a massive troop build up along the Iraqi border. It said recent troop movements in the region are routine preparations for developments that could take place.