Turkey's parliament on Thursday voted to allow U.S. military technicians to begin renovating Turkish bases and ports for possible use in a war against Iraq.
In a stormy session that was closed to the public, 308 lawmakers voted for and 193 against the motion authorizing U.S. technicians to upgrade Turkish ports and bases for use in the event of a war against Iraq.
Speaking to reporters after the ballot, the chairman of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insisted that the vote did not mean Turkey was entering a war. Mr. Erdogan added that Turkey could not remain indifferent to a conflict that seemed increasingly likely and was therefore taking all necessary precautions in line with the country's security and interests.
Thursday's vote sets the stage for another important decision. On February 18, the Turkish parliament is scheduled to vote on a bill authorizing the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops in Turkey. Those forces will likely be used in a second front against Iraqi forces in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. U.S. officials say a second front would help speed Iraq's defeat and minimize U.S. casualties.
Turkey, until recently, had delayed a decision on allowing the basing of U.S. forces in the country. One of the chief reasons for its reluctance was strong public opposition to a war against Iraq. According to recent opinion polls, nine out of 10 Turks are opposed to a U.S.-led war against Turkey's fellow Muslim neighbor.
In addition, Turkish leaders are fearful of the economic impact that war would have on the country's fragile economy. Another concern is that the Kurds of northern Iraq would exploit the collapse of President Saddam Hussein's regime to set up their own independent state.
The Bush administration has gone a long way to allay Turkish concerns with pledges of economic aid and guarantees of support for Iraq's continued territorial integrity. Washington has also agreed to the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq in exchange for Ankara's support in a war.