Turkey Should Put Iraq Mission to Parliament

ANKARA (Reuters)-Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said on Monday the Turkish government should ask parliament before accepting a US request to send peacekeepers to Iraq–even though this could mean a delay of weeks or months.

Washington–suffering daily casualties in Iraq–is pressing for a swift decision–and sending peacekeepers to Iraq could help Turkey repair damage to their long-standing partnership.

"I believe parliament’s permission should be obtained if the troops are to be sent," Gul told the Turkish news channel NTV. "It could happen in the medium term; it could take several months."

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is aware that it was parliament’s rejection in March of a US request for permission to use Turkey as a launch pad to attack Iraq that sparked a crisis in relations between the two NATO allies.

Some legal experts say Turkey’s constitution may allow AKP to send Turkish troops abroad without parliament’s approval.

Any failure to pass such a motion might even threaten the political future of AKP–which staunch Turkish secularists view with great suspicion for its Islamist roots and moves to reduce the power of Turkey’s military in political decision-making.

The United States made an official request for Turkish peacekeepers during a visit by Gul to Washington last week.

AKP has said it would prefer to await a UN or NATO remit for the deployment–to bolster public support. But the United States may not want it to wait that long.

"This is not a matter that will become clear today or tomorrow," Gul said–adding the government would seek the views of Turkey’s influential military before making its decision.

Relations between the two nations hit new lows earlier this month when US forces briefly detained 11 Turkish soldiers suspected of plotting an attack on a Kurdish official in northern Iraq.

The arrest of the Turkish commandos cast a glare on the Turkish military’s role in mainly Kurdish northern Iraq. Ankara says its troops are in pursuit of a few thousand Turkish Kurdish separatists based there–but US-backed Iraqi Kurdish leaders say the soldiers are a destabilizing presence and should withdraw.

Gul would not confirm Turkish media reports the United States and Turkey are now carrying out joint exercises across the border in Iraq–but said Washington and Ankara are discussing ways to eradicate the threat from the guerrillas–against which Turkey has fought a decades-long war at a cost of more than 30,000 lives–most of them Kurds.

"Turkey and the United States are determined to act in partnership in northern Iraq," he said.

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