Plan to Send Thousands of Turkish Troops to Iraq Collapses

Special to The Times

The United States and Turkey formally abandoned plans Friday to bring as many as 10,000 Turkish troops into Iraq, marking a major setback for U.S. efforts to shift more of the peacekeeping burden to allies.

Facing continued resistance from the Iraqi Governing Council, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul decided in a phone call Thursday night to shelve a plan that was authorized by the Turkish legislature four weeks ago.

The decision was prompted not by concerns about the dangers of deployment, but by Iraqi "sensitivities" on the issue, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday.

Turkey and the Kurds of northern Iraq have long been adversaries, and other Iraqis also were suspicious of bringing in Turks, who ruled Iraq for nearly 400 years under the Ottoman Empire.

U.S. officials said requests for troops from other countries are pending, but the development means the Pentagon probably won't be able to rely on allies, in the short term, for many more than the 24,000 troops now in place.

It is also a blow to the administration's effort to make the occupation force appear more diverse, and in particular, to bring in soldiers from Muslim countries. U.S. officials were optimistic that they were moving in that direction last month when the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution urging nations to support Iraq with troops and money.

But many members of the Iraqi Governing Council spoke out strongly against the planned Turkish deployment. Kurdish leaders suggested that the Turkish agenda was to undermine the gains made by Iraqi Kurds over the previous 12 years, during which they became increasingly autonomous within Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Without the Turkish contingent, the Pentagon will have to rely more on a planned rotation of U.S. forces, and an accelerated effort to bring thousands more Iraqis into police, military and security forces.

The South Koreans, who have 700 troops in Iraq already, have agreed to expand their contingent to several thousand, a U.S. official said. But other countries that are considering sizable deployments, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, are far from making decisions, he said.

"There's not a lot going on," the official said.

The troops from Turkey, who were to be stationed in a predominantly Sunni Muslim area west of Baghdad, would have been the third largest contingent, after the Americans and British.

Though it had become increasingly clear in recent weeks that the troop deal was in trouble, U.S. administration officials conceded privately that the reversal still is an embarrassment for U.S. policymakers, who had long pressured Turkey to contribute forces.

Although U.S. and Turkish officials Friday described the latest discussions as cordial, Gul last week accused the United States of "ineptitude" in its handling of the offer.

"First they came, very enthusiastic, and said, 'Please hurry up,' and then they say there were many different issues and began to have many hesitations themselves," he told reporters in Ankara, the Turkish capital.

On Friday, Gul said that "the Iraqis say they can secure the stability in Iraq themselves.... As we said from the beginning, we are not very eager, and we will send troops only if we can be of help. We saw that there is no such situation at present."

L. Paul Bremer III, the top American administrator in Iraq, played a central role over the last two weeks in convincing U.S. officials to give up the idea of bringing in the Turkish troops, said people involved in the talks.

Although U.S. officials were pleased to be offered the Turkish troops last month, the outcome of the deliberations is likely to renew tensions between the longtime allies, analysts said.

"Turkey's inability to place forces in Iraq may lead to a further deterioration in relations, because the perception here is that the U.S. is favoring the Iraqi Kurds over the Turks," said Bulent Aliriza, a specialist on Turkey at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "And should the Iraqi Kurds help U.S. forces stabilize areas outside their own zone -- which is very likely -- this will create further problems."

U.S. and Turkish ties were strained in March, when the Turkish parliament refused to allow 60,000 U.S. troops to cross Turkish territory into Iraq to form a northern front against Saddam Hussein's forces.

It was largely in a bid to win back favor with Washington that Turkey's parliament on Oct. 7 approved a bill that gave the government a yearlong mandate to send troops to Iraq.

Public opinion in the predominantly Muslim nation is overwhelmingly against military involvement in Iraq, but Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had argued that dispatching forces would give Turkey a say in shaping the future of its southern neighbor.


Times staff writer Richter reported from Washington and special correspondent Zaman from Ankara.

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