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Turkey Introduces Motion to Allow US Ground Forces in Country - 2003-02-24

Turkey's government says it will present a motion to parliament recommending the deployment of thousands of U.S. ground forces on Turkish soil in preparation for a possible war against Iraq.

Speaking to reporters after a lengthy Cabinet meeting, government spokesman Abdullatif Sener confirmed agreement on the motion, although some ministers expressed reservations.

Mr. Sener added that negotiations between Turkey and the United States on a deal for the basing of U.S. troops, as well as on an economic aid package to compensate Turkey for its possible losses in any such war, are continuing.

Turkish leaders have signaled over the past days that, after months of tense bargaining, an agreement with the United States is close to being finalized. A major breakthrough in those talks came last week, when Washington offered Turkey five billion dollars in aid and $10 billion in loans to cushion the Turkish economy from the impact of any war.

Another major hurdle was cleared after the Bush administration reportedly responded favorably to another key Turkish demand to base thousands of its own troops in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Turkey says its forces need to be in northern Iraq to stem a potential mass exodus of Kurdish refugees on the one hand, while preventing the Iraqi Kurds from setting up an independent state on the other.

The Iraqi Kurds are strongly opposed to possible Turkish intervention, saying it could invite similar intervention from neighboring Iran. On Sunday, a leading Iraqi Kurdish official, Hoshyar Zebari, told a news conference that the Iraqi Kurds would resist Turkish forces militarily, if need be.

Washington has long been pressing Turkey to allow the deployment of ground troops, which could then gain access to northern Iraq through Turkey to open a second front against Iraqi government forces in the event of a war.

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party has been delaying a decision, not least because of overwhelming public opposition to a war against Iraq. Reflecting the bitter divisions within the Justice and Development Party, several government ministers on Monday continued to voice opposition to the Parliamentary motion.

Parliament Speaker Bulent Arinc, who is at the forefront of the anti-war lobby within the government, said he hoped the motion would not come before the chamber any time soon.

Analysts say, however, that Turkey is unwilling to risk its close strategic relationship with the United States, and that the bill will likely be approved.