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Turkey Agrees Not to Send Troops to Iraq - 2003-11-07

The Bush administration has given up on the prospect of having Turkish troops join the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul spoke by telephone late Thursday, and decided mutually to shelve the idea, in the face of opposition to a Turkish presence by Iraq's Governing Council.

The Turkish government had offered to contribute 10,000 troops to Iraqi peacekeeping operations, a number that would have matched the British contingent and provided a symbolically-important infusion of Muslim soldiers to the U.S. security effort.

But Iraqi Kurdish factions were alarmed at the prospect of having large numbers of troops from their historical enemy, Turkey, in the country, even though U.S. officials had made clear that the Turks would have been deployed in central and southern Iraq, far from the mainly Kurdish north.

The issue was sealed earlier this week, when the current leader of the Iraqi Governing Council, Jalal Talibani - a Kurdish factional leader - announced the U.S.-appointed council's final rejection of the offer.

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher says, in the telephone conversation with Mr. Gul, Secretary Powell thanked the Turkish government for its positive response to the U.S. appeal for troops. He said they agreed to keep working together on Iraqi reconstruction, while acknowledging together that the deployment could not go forward.

"Obviously, we would have preferred if this had all worked out very nicely to everybody's satisfaction," he said. "But let's remember that the goal is stability in Iraq, and that there is recognition, I think, on all our parts - the United States' side, Turkish, as well as the Iraqis - that maybe, this deployment, at this time, would not add to that goal in a way that we hoped it would."

Mr. Boucher said he did not think the absence of Turkish troops would make the U.S. security role in Iraq any more difficult, and that the United States is continuing to talk to other potential contributing countries to expand the coalition, which currently includes more than 30 countries.

A senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here noted South Korea's recent commitment to provide troops, and said discussions on the issue were still underway with Pakistan and Bangladesh, among others.

Referring to Kurdish opposition to a Turkish presence, the official said, if a significant element of the Iraqi population would be "perturbed" by such a prospect, and it would create additional friction in the country, then it is not a good thing to do.