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and the Iraqi Kurds
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Turkey in the Middle
Posted:02.26.03, updated 03.01.03
The U.S. tries to convince a divided Turkish government to accept American troops in order to create a northern front in a possible war with Iraq.
Turkey has been a bridge or barrier between the East and the West for thousands of years. Now, the potential of war in Iraq continues the country's precarious position.
Although most of the forces in a U.S. invasion of Iraq would come from Kuwait in the south, military planners want the option to open two fronts, or areas of fighting, to divide Iraqi forces.
With its 218-mile border with northern Iraq and its historic ties with the U.S. and other western nations, American officials see Turkey as a key strategic area in a potential Iraq conflict.
What Turkey wants
Although last week the Turkish cabinet agreed to a plan that would allow U.S. troops access to Turkey, the Turkish parliament must also agree to the plan. The plan authorizes the deployment of 62,000 U.S. combat troops, 255 warplanes and 65 helicopters for use in a possible war with Iraq. In return, Washington offered a financial package of $5 billion in aid and $10 billion in loans to cushion the Turkish economy from the impact of any war.
The money would be important to Turkey, which suffered severe economic losses following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The war kept tourists from visiting the region, shut down an oil pipeline from Iraq, and dropped the country's economic growth rate from 5 percent to 1 percent.
On Saturday the Turkish parliament rejected the arrangement by three votes, but senior Turkish officials indicated that the head of the ruling political party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, would ask parliament members to reconsider their decision, according to the New York Times.
The Kurdish situation
Another unsettled issue is what to do about the Kurds. Kurds are an ethnic group living in a region that spans southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq and western Iran.
Following the Persian Gulf War in 1991, a No-Fly-Zone was created to prevent Saddam Hussein's regime from harming Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq. This area has become a haven for Kurdish people throughout the region. Some Kurds would like to see the formation of their own country.
Turkey wants to send tens of thousands of its own troops into northern Iraq to prevent a refugee crisis and keep tabs on Kurdish rebels who may want to create an independent state, something the Turks oppose.
Turkey fears that the creation of a Kurdish independent state, or even providing arms to Kurds in northern Iraq, will create problems, such as separatist attacks, within its own borders. Turkish forces have fought a bloody war with Kurdish separatists for decades.
These internal issues facing the Turkish people will remain front and center as the parliament considers how much help to give the U.S. and its allies in a possible military invasion of Iraq.
The United States' goals
Meanwhile, U.S. warships carrying tanks and armor have been waiting off Turkey's coast for more than a week.
If Turkey's government eventually approves the deal agreed upon by the Cabinet, the U.S. will unload the equipment necessary to launch air strikes and conduct rescue operations.
Should war with Iraq begin, Turkey's border with Iraq could serve as an entrance for troops and equipment as well as an exit point for those wounded in battle. The location is also close to significant oil fields in northern Iraq that the U.S. hopes to protect.
U.S. military officials said that an attack on Iraq would be possible
without Turkey's help, using other air bases in the region and large
air craft carriers at sea.
-- By Annie Schleicher, NewsHour Extra
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