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Turkey to Debate US Forces Using Airspace Against Iraq - 2003-03-19

Turkish Prime minister Tayyip Erdogan confirmed Wednesday that the country's parliament will debate a bill allowing U.S. forces to use Turkish airspace in a war against Iraq.

In addition to granting the United States the use of Turkish airbases, the bill also authorizes an unspecified number of Turkish troops to enter Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. That part of the proposed legislation is certain to anger Iraqi Kurds, who say they will resist Turkish forces militarily if need be.

The Bush administration has been supporting the Kurdish position ever since Turkey's parliament on March 1 rejected a bill that would have allowed tens of thousands of U.S. troops to use Turkey as a staging ground for attacks into northern Iraq.

Relations between Turkey and the United States have been increasingly strained since then. On Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that a six billion dollar aid package that had been pledged to Turkey in exchange for its military support has now been withdrawn.

Mr. Powell's announcement sent Turkey's fragile financial markets into a tailspin Monday, prompting the government to come up with the new resolution that was disclosed Wednesday. It grants the United States use of 11 air corridors but not of Turkish airbases.

This bill is expected to be approved, even though a majority of lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party are opposed to war against Turkey's fellow Muslim neighbor.

Turkish officials have let it be known that they hope the new bill, if it does win approval, will prompt Washington to reconsider renewing its aid commitment to Turkey, even if it turns out to be less than the six billion dollars originally promised.

But a new U.S. offer seems unlikely. On Wednesday the U.S. embassy in Ankara responded coolly to a Turkish request for financial assistance. The embassy issued a statement saying the United States would support a structural reform program being financed through International Monetary Fund loans as long as Turkey adhered to the program's conditions.

U.S. officials said that statement does not amount to any sort of financial commitment on the part of the U.S. government.