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Turkey Willing to Send Troops to Iraq - 2003-09-09

Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul confirmed Tuesday that Turkey is willing to send some 10,000 troops to help U.S.-led coalition forces police Iraq. Speaking to the private NTV news channel, Mr. Gul said his government is still in the process of assessing the political and security risks associated with the possible deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq. He added that there are what he called technical issues under consideration by the Turkish General Staff and that their work would be completed by the end of September.

Turkey has offered to contribute soldiers to the U.S.-led coalition in a bid to mend ties with its NATO ally the United States. Relations between Turkey and Washington hit an unprecedented low when Turkey's parliament in March rejected a bill authorizing the deployment of thousands of American troops in Turkey. Those troops would have been used to open a second northern front against Saddam Hussein's forces.

But Turkey has laid down several conditions for participating in the U.S.-led coaltion. Chief among them are demands that the United States crack down on some 5,000 Turkish Kurd rebels in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. The rebel group known as KADEK called off a four year long unilateral truce last week, saying Turkey had failed to satisfy the political and cultural demands of its estimated 14-million-strong ethnic Kurdish population.

The United States has pledged to disarm and dislodge any KADEK militants who fail to surrender to Turkish authorities under an amnesty law passed by the Turkish parliament last month.

A U.S. delegation is expected in the Turkish capital later this week to discuss possible measures against the rebels, who are on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

In addition to that issue, there are other hurdles in the way of Turkish involvement in Iraq. For one, the Turkish parliament needs to authorize any troop deployment. With the Turkish public largely opposed to that move, analysts say the government will need to work hard to win parliamentary backing for the deal

Another hitch is continued opposition by the Iraqi Kurds to a Turkish military presence in Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds maintain that the Turks would be a destabilizing factor in Iraq, a view that was recently echoed by Iraqi's new foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, himself an ethnic-Kurd.

The Turkish foreign minister warned the Iraqi Kurds during Tuesday's interview against what the termed provocative statements, and he urged them to bear the interests of all Iraqis in mind when making such statements. He said if relations between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds are damaged, they would be, in his words, extremely difficult to repair.