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Three Americans Die in Iraq; U.S. Puts Hold on Turkish Troops

Two U.S. soldiers were killed and four others wounded when an American base 70 miles north of Baghdad was struck by mortar fire. A third U.S. soldier was killed earlier in a firefight in the northern city of Mosul.

The decision to hold off on sending Turkish troops to Iraq came at the request of U.S. officials, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday.

Erdogan said American officials asked for more time to consider Turkey’s offer to send troops, according to Turkish television.

The plan to deploy Turkish troops had met with criticism from Iraqis and the international community. Some observers feared the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq would exacerbate tensions between Iraqi citizens and coalition forces because of an antagonistic history between the two nations.

Iraq was once a part of the Ottoman Empire, which was the predecessor of present day Turkey. Kurdish separatists, whose territory straddles the border between the two countries, have fought for more autonomy and some Kurdish groups have violently resisted the rule of the Turkish government.

The planned deployment was widely unpopular with the Turkish and Iraqi publics and was unanimously opposed by the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council.

“The Governing Council has made it very clear to the administration and to Turkey that it does not favor the involvement of any neighboring countries in this situation because of the sensitivities involved,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told The New York Times Thursday.

Erdogan said Thursday that Turkey would not send troops without the consent of the Governing Council.

U.S. officials, however, were reportedly initially willing to accept assistance from a NATO ally and Iraqi neighbor.

President Bush has asked many nations to provide troops and monetary assistance for the rebuilding of Iraq.

Erdogan said Turkish troops may be sent to Iraq in the future if the United States requests them.

“If they present a proposal then we’ll examine it and make a decision,” he said, according to Turkish television. “We have no great ambition to have our troops in Iraq, but we are always ready as a government to send them.”

According to news reports, Turkey has some troops stationed just inside the Iraq border near Kurdish controlled areas.

The U.S. government has reportedly approved an $8.5 billion loan offer for Turkey because of its willingness to assist in efforts to stabilize Iraq.

Other countries pledged to provide monetary assistance to the rebuilding effort in Iraq at a donors conference in Madrid Friday, but early totals indicated the meeting would not net the estimated $56 billion needed for rebuilding in Iraq.

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