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Turkey Lawmakers Fail to Approve US Troop Deployment - 2003-03-01

In Turkey's Parliament, a bill that would have allowed U.S. troops to use Turkish bases for a possible war with Iraq failed to gain the necessary majority of votes. The result was widely unexpected, despite widespread opposition to Turkey's involvement in a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Parliament Speaker Bulent Arinc confirmed that a simple majority had not been attained.

According to initial results from the balloting, held behind closed doors, 264 deputies voted in favor of the bill and 250 voted against it. There were 19 abstentions. Although more deputies voted in favor of the bill, Turkey's constitution requires a simple majority of all those voting, and that was not achieved. Parliament speaker Arinc nullified the vote.

Mr. Arinc hinted that a second vote may be held on Tuesday.

Analysts say the result will likely have a negative impact on Turkey's relations with its strongest and closest ally, the United States.

The Bush administration has long been pressing Turkey to allow the deployment of some 62,000 combat troops on Turkish soil. From there, the forces could enter Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq in the event of a possible war, to open a second front against Iraqi government forces. Military planners say a second front would accelerate a U.S. victory and reduce the number of likely casualties.

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party has been in lengthy and often tense negotiations with the United States over the troop deployment, and has been holding out for billions of dollars in economic aid to cushion the effects of a war on Turkey's economy.

It has also been demanding that Turkish troops be allowed to be deployed together with U.S. forces in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. The main purpose of a Turkish presence would have been to prevent the Iraqi Kurds from declaring an independent state in northern Iraq. The United States had largely agreed to all of Turkey's conditions, prompting the Justice and Development Party leader, Tayyip Erdogan, to assure the nation that the bill allowing U.S. deployment would be passed.

But analysts say many lawmakers, including those from the Justice and Development Party, apparently bowed to public pressure in rejecting the motion. Even as the vote was being held thousands of Turks gathered in Ankara's main Kizilay Square to protest a possible war against Iraq. Recent opinion polls show that nine out 10 Turks are opposed to war against Turkey's fellow Muslim neighbor.