Turkey may again ask lawmakers to let U.S. troops in

Wednesday, March 5, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey -- The Turkish government may again ask parliament to allow in U.S. troops for an Iraq war, the nation's top politician indicated Tuesday while telling lawmakers to base their decisions on what is best for "the country's future."

That future would include a say in northern Iraq and a $15 billion aid package from the United States if parliament approves the deployment of 62,000 troops Washington wants to open a northern front against Iraq in the event of war.

A potential Iraq war is unpopular in Turkey, but many Turks fear the country will lose that aid for snubbing the United States, as parliament did Saturday. Officials in Washington have said Turkey is unlikely to get the multibillion-dollar cushion from any war fallout if it does not back the United States.

The northern front is a key part of Washington's strategy for an Iraq war, but it is unclear if Washington can wait for the delays. Ships carrying U.S. armor already are off southern Turkey and would have to be diverted to the Persian Gulf if Ankara does not approve the troop deployment.

"Turkey, for its own security and for Iraq's territorial integrity, will not remain an observer to the developments, and I believe in the coming days, (Turkey) will decide on how it needs to intervene and which method it needs to use," Justice party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan told legislators.

More than 90 Justice deputies voted against the troop deployment Saturday, and the issue failed by three votes.

Legislators have "to take steps not to satisfy their daily emotions but toward the country's future, toward managing the country's future," Erdogan said.

He said "no final decision has been made" on when to submit a new motion to parliament.

Reha Denemec, a party deputy chairman, said a new vote was not likely before two or three weeks.

"It's a lame duck government," Denemec told The Associated Press. "They can't decide right now. A vote is possible in two weeks but more probable in three weeks."

Many Turks fear an Iraq war will lead to regional chaos and economic instability. The ruling party has its roots in Turkey's Islamic movement and some legislators do not want Turkey to back war against a fellow Muslim country.

But Turkish ties with Washington are crucial and many Turks believe that failure to back the United States means their nation will lose a say in the future of neighboring Iraq after any war. Turks fear that Iraqi Kurds will try to create an independent state, boosting aspirations of Turkey's autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels.

Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, a London-based umbrella group, met with Turkish officials Tuesday to mend ties.

Turkish by-elections are scheduled for Sunday, and Erdogan, who is not in parliament for legal reasons, is expected to win a seat in the balloting. The elections involve only three seats and will not change the balance of power in parliament, where Justice has an overwhelming majority.

The Cabinet then is expected to resign, making way for Erdogan to become prime minister. A new government could take another week to be formed, after which Erdogan could introduce a new motion.

Denemec said he expected Erdogan to continue pressing legislators to back a troop deployment.

"Many people said, 'We are against war,' but they are seeing the realities now," Denemec said.

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