Turkey's top general on Wednesday has thrown his support behind a bill authorizing the deployment of thousands of U.S. combat troops in Turkey. General Hilmi Ozkok said approval of the bill, which was rejected by parliament Saturday, would be in Turkey's interest.
Speaking at a news conference, General Ozkok, chief of Turkey's general staff, argued that allowing American troops in Turkey would enable the United States to open a second front in a war against Iraq. He said this is in Turkey's interest because it would accelerate a U.S. victory and minimize casualties. In the event of war against Iraq, American troops based in Kuwait are expected to invade Iraq from the south.
General Ozkok added that Turkey's economy would be more likely to weather the effects of war with its Arab neighbor if it were to receive a multi-billion dollar aid package that the United States has promised Turkey in exchange for Turkish support.
Bush administration officials say that package will not be released unless Turkey cooperates militarily with the United States.
Members of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party have indicated that the bill is likely to be resubmitted to the parliament in the coming days. The first motion failed by a mere three votes amid rising public opposition to a war against Iraq.
Analysts say endorsement from the powerful Turkish military makes it more likely that the bill will be approved this time. The Turkish military is believed to support the bill because it also calls for the deployment of thousands of Turkish troops in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.
Turkey is seeking a strong military presence in the Kurdish enclave mainly because it wants to stall any moves by the Iraqi Kurds to break away from the central government in Baghdad. Turkey fears that this would encourage its own restive Kurdish population to seek autonomy.
Both the Iraqi Kurds and the United States say they are opposed to unilateral Turkish intervention.