Turkey Decides Not to Send Troops to Iraq

ANKARA (Reuters)–Reversing an earlier decision–Turkey said on Friday it would not deploy troops to help the United States secure postwar Iraq after encountering strong opposition from the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Political analysts said the move would expose the problems US forces are having in restoring order in Iraq–but said it should not harm ties between NATO allies Washington and Ankara. Turkish financial markets shrugged off the announcement.

Turkey took its decision after US Secretary of State Colin Powell rang Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on Thursday evening to discuss Iraq.

After reviewing the situation–Foreign Minister Gul informed Secretary Powell that the Turkish government would reconsider its offer to send troops.

It said Powell thanked Washington’s "strategic ally” for its offer and vowed US forces would crack down on Turkish Kurdish rebels hiding in northern Iraq–a key demand of Turkey–which fears renewed separatist violence on its own territory.

As NATO’s only Muslim member–Turkey has agonized about how to react to the US-led war in Iraq–first barring US troops in March from attacking its neighbor from Turkish soil–then agreeing only last month–after much bargaining–to send troops.

The decision to dispatch soldiers to Iraq–once part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire–was strongly opposed by Iraq’s Governing Council and Iraq’s Kurds–who have seen Turkish troops based in their northern mountainous region since the mid-1990s.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said last month his country would not send troops to Iraq if they were unwanted.

PRESSURE ON GOVERNMENT

Not sending troops to Iraq eases pressure on Erdogan’s government–which–against public opinion–allowed the deployment because of pressure from Washington and Ankara’s powerful military establishment.

"The October decision was all about mending fences with the United States…The decision now not to send troops is an advantage for the government,” said Huseyin Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University. Financial markets took a similar view. "The stress generated by the sending of troops to Iraq has now been removed,” said Mehmet Pinar from Deniz Portfolio.

Brokers said the decision should not affect an $8.5 billion loan deal signed with the United States. Analysts said the United States had finally realized the political cost of having Turkish troops in Iraq outweighed the military benefits of relieving pressure on its own forces.

"A deployment was always going to be complicated and the security situation in Iraq has not improved,” said Colonel Terence Taylor of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington.

"But Turkey’s decision is also an expression of a lack of confidence in what is going on in Iraq,” he told Reuters.

Some Turkish commentators were scathing about Washington’s handling of the issue regarding the troops–which has also drawn strong criticism from veteran US diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

"What has surprised many is that the United States could make such a miscalculation,” said political columnist Sami Kohen."It is amazing they didn’t know beforehand how the Iraqis would respond… It has been humiliating for Turkey.”

Turkey keeps a few thousand soldiers in the Kurdish-run North to pursue the PKK separatist group–which has been fighting for a Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey since 1984.

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