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Turkish Troops Enter Northern Iraq

BY Admin  March 21, 2003 at 9:28 PM EDT

An unidentified Turkish military source told Reuters, ”Turkish units have begun crossing into northern Iraq to take security measures at various points… These units will secure the safety of units that will follow.”

“Further crossings will take place at various intervals,” the official said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said that his country’s troop movements were meant to combat possible militant activity.

“Turkish troops will go. A vacuum was formed in northern Iraq and that vacuum became practically a camp for terrorist activity. This time we do not want such a vacuum,” Gul told a news conference Friday.

“Turkey has no designs whatsoever on Iraq’s territory,” he added.

Experts say Ankara may also fear that an increase in autonomy for Kurds in northern Iraq could cause conflict between the Turkish government and Turkey’s own Kurdish population.

“If the Kurds in northern Iraq assume some legal autonomy, either through a federal state or maybe even go for independence, that that Kurdish autonomy will eventually affect or influence Turkish Kurds,” Henri Barkey of Lehigh University told the NewsHour last month.

Turkey has already stationed several thousand soldiers a short distance inside northern Iraq, but Iraqi Kurds oppose their presence, believing they threaten Iraq’s territorial integrity and the Kurds’ semi-autonomous safe haven within Iraq’s northern No-Fly Zone.

Kurdish groups have said they will resist any Turkish invasion but did not appear to be aware immediately of Friday night’s limited incursion along the remote border, the Associated Press reported.

Gul’s announcement comes just after Turkey’s government agreed earlier Friday to allow U.S. warplanes use its airspace to launch attacks on Iraq. Turkey had delayed granting airspace use, insisting the U.S. allow it to move more of its troops into northern Iraq.

American officials asked Turkey to not send a large number of troops beyond the refugee buffer zone near the Turkish-Iraq border, fearing clashes between the Turks and Iraqi Kurdish forces.

Earlier Friday, before Turkey approved the overflight deal, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he didn’t see “a need for any Turkish incursions into northern Iraq.”

“We are talking with the Turkish authorities to see whether or not there is some planning we should do with respect to any humanitarian need that might arise along the border,” Powell told reporters Friday morning.

Additionally, U.S. forces in northern Iraq have begun collaborating with Kurdish and Iraqi opposition forces to fight the Iraqi military, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday.

“We have Special Forces and units connected to Kurdish forces in the north… And you can be certain that we have advised the Turkish government and the Turkish armed forces that it would be notably unhelpful if they went into the north in large numbers,” Rumsfeld said.