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Turkish Parliament Authorizes Use of Airspace by US in Iraq War - 2003-03-20

Turkey's parliament approved a resolution Thursday authorizing U.S. warplanes to fly through Turkish airspace in the military campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The measure also allows Turkish troops to cross into Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

The resolution passed relatively easily, with 332 legislators voting in favor and 202 against. Thursday's vote came after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell requested use of Turkish airspace earlier this week.

Turkey will not be receiving financial compensation that it was seeking from the United States in exchange for its cooperation in the U.S. war effort. The Bush administration had earlier pledged some $6 billion in loans and grants to Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, under the terms of a deal that would have allowed some 60,000 U.S. combat troops to use Turkey as a springboard for military operations in northern Iraq.

That deal fell through when the Turkish parliament on March 1 narrowly rejected a bill authorizing the basing of U.S. troops. Relations between Turkey and the United States have been strained ever since.

Turkey's decision to send in thousands of its own troops into northern Iraq is set to escalate tensions with the Iraqi Kurds. Iraqi Kurdish leaders have vowed to keep Turkish troops out of their enclave by force if need be. Washington has also been urging Turkey not to enter northern Iraq unilaterally.

Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said after Thursday's vote that Turkish troops would be entering Iraq for what he termed "humanitarian purposes," to help stem a potential mass exodus of Kurdish refugees.

Mr. Cicek added that Turkey had no "imperial ambitions" in Iraq. He was referring to widespread media reports that Turkey is seeking to gain control of Iraqi oil fields in the provinces of Kirkuk and Mosul. Turkey has historical claims over those provinces which were once part of the Ottoman empire.