Turkish peacekeepers still under discussion

Sunday, October 12, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The president of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council sought to play down differences with the Americans over the deployment of Turkish peacekeepers, saying Saturday the issue was under discussion and dodging further questions.

Turkey became the first Muslim country this week to approve sending peacekeeping troops to Iraq without requiring that the United States first turn control over to the United Nations.

But the Iraqi Governing Council, in an internal vote, rejected the Turkish proposal, expressing fears that peacekeepers from neighboring countries could end up interfering in Iraq's internal affairs. Turkey has long battled an ethnic Kurdish insurgency, and Kurds in northern Iraq fear that Turkish troops could turn on them.

Council President Iyad Allawi, visibly angered about the attention given to the issue at a Saturday news conference, said differences exist between the 24-member council and the U.S.-led coalition on the issue.

"But both sides also are determined to have more discussions," Allawi said at his first news conference since taking over the council's rotating, one-month presidency Oct. 1.

Asked to comment on media reports that Turkey planned to open a new border crossing with Iraq to facilitate the deployment, Allawi said: "We are not ready to take any more questions on the subject."

A source familiar with the discussions said L. Paul Bremer, America's top official in Iraq, asked council members not to discuss the issue with the media after a Kurdish member, Mahmoud Othman, was widely quoted earlier this week as saying the council had agreed to reject the deployment when the issue was still under discussion.

Othman, however, reiterated his view Saturday.

"We believe it is unnecessary," he said of the deployment of 10,000 Turkish troops. "Neighboring nations can help Iraq, but not necessarily through sending troops."

Citing what he called Iraqi sensitivities, Othman said: "We believe that the American and Turkish sides must listen to the views of the Iraqi people ..... They should not insist on what is not in the interest of Iraq."

He did not say what the sensitivities were, but he was apparently referring to Iraq's Kurds, who make up about a third of the country's 25 million people.

Turkey battled Turkish Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy in southern Turkey, a 15-year conflict that left 37,000 people dead.

Turkey's Parliament voted Tuesday to approve a government request to send peacekeepers to Iraq to help the U.S.-led coalition, a move applauded in Washington.

Bremer has said officials were discussing the issue with the Iraqis but that under international law, the final decision on accepting the Turks rests with the coalition. Bremer wields a veto over the council's decisions, although he has repeatedly said he did not foresee a time when he would exercise that right

One option open to the council, said the source close to the discussions, would be persuading Muslim nations other than Turkey or Iraq's other neighbors to contribute peacekeepers.

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