Turkey Hints May Enter Iraq If Breakup Looms

"NOT ONLY THE TURKMENS BUT ALSO THE KURDS ARE OUR RELATIVES THERE… WE WANT TO PROTECT ALL OF THEM IF THERE IS A MASSACRE THERE.”

DAVOS (Reuters)–Prime Minister Abdullah Gul hinted on Saturday Turkey could send troops into northern Iraq if it saw a risk of the country breaking up in a US-led war–or a threat to the ethnic Turkmen minority.

Gul insisted Ankara had no territorial ambitions in Iraq and wanted to see its neighbor’s unity and territorial integrity preserved if war could not be avoided.

But he declined to rule out Turkish military intervention–telling a news conference at the World Economic Forum: "Not only the Turkmens but also the Kurds are our relatives there… We want to protect all of them if there is a massacre there.” Asked if he could see circumstances in which Turkish troops would enter northern Iraq–he said: "Definitely–we do not want to see a divided Iraq in the region… If that happens–if we cannot find a peaceful solution and if war is started out of our control–we will see–of course.”

Gul–due to meet US Secretary of State Colin Powell later on Saturday in the Swiss ski resort of Davos–would not say whether Turkey would allow US ground troops to invade Iraq from its soil–as diplomats say Washington has requested.

Suggesting the decision might hinge on a United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force–he said the Turkish parliament would decide and "international legitimacy is of course very important before that.

"Then we will see–but there is still time for a peaceful solution. First we have to exhaust all possibilities.”

FINAL PACKAGE

Turkey has kept some troops in northern Iraq since the early 1990s to pursue Turkish Kurdish rebels and support the local Turkmen minority–which Gul said was under-represented in Iraq.

Gul drew an indirect link with intensive talks under way with the US Treasury on additional financial aid to compensate Turkey for economic losses from any conflict.

Turkish Economy Minister Ali Babacan told the same news conference he was negotiating a support package that could include direct loans–gran’s and loan guarantees–in which the United States would underwrite Turkish government borrowing.

He declined to confirm or deny the figure of $15 billion disclosed by US officials to Reuters on Thursday–saying: "The magnitude is still being discussed."

Ankara and Washington had reached a common understanding that the aid mechanism should be flexible and adaptable since the course and cost of a war was unpredictable–Babacan added.

Gul said estimates of Turkey’s losses from the 1991 Gulf War ranged from $5 billion to $100 billion.

The potential economic impact was only one reason why Turkey was trying to exhaust every diplomatic possibility to avoid war. Ankara also feared a repeat of the 1991 influx of half a million Kurdish refugees which it had to shelter and feed–he said.

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