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Iraq, US Vie for Turkey's Support on Iraq Attack - 2002-09-30

Top Iraqi and U.S. officials are in Ankara to try to win Turkey's support in the event of a U.S. led military operation against Iraq. As Amberin Zaman reports, Iraq's deputy prime minister and the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs held talks with Turkish leaders to press their respective cases.

Within minutes of his arrival, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minster Tariq Aziz told reporters that Turkey would suffer badly if it were to side with the United States in a war against his country.

Mr. Aziz reminded Turkish officials their country has lost up to $40 billion in forfeited trade revenue as a result of U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Iraqi official, who said he was bringing a message from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, insisted that Turkey would suffer further losses if it participated in another attack against Iraq.

Turkey is the NATO military alliance's only predominately Muslim member. The country played a key role in the Persian Gulf War, opening its bases to Allied aircraft staging bombing raids against Iraqi targets.

Turkey shares a 700 kilometer border with Iraq, and its support is seen as crucial by the Bush Administration in helping to overthrow President Saddam Hussein.

But Turkey is expressing strong reservations about the consequences of another war against Iraq. Turkish leaders are worried in particular that the three million Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq would take advantage of a power vacuum, following the removal of the Iraqi leader to set up their own independent state.

Turkish leaders say that an independent Kurdish state would foment separatist tendencies amid its own one million ethnic Kurds. Turkey says it will intervene militarily in Iraq if need be to prevent the formation of a Kurdish homeland along its borders.

Turkish Foreign Minister Sukru Sina Gurel repeated his government's concerns to Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones during their meeting.

The U.S. official said the talks also focused on a proposed U.N. resolution setting the terms for the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq. Turkey says Iraq should permit the return of the inspectors and guarantee their full and unfettered access to suspected weapon's sites.

Iraq has agreed to the unconditional return of the inspectors. But Iraqi officials say they will reject new conditions concerning the return of the inspectors.

Deputy Prime Minister Aziz termed as "ridiculous" U.S. charges that the Iraqi government is developing nuclear and biological weapons. He added that he was convinced that "Turkish officials would take a stance on Iraq in accordance with Turkey's interests."