ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey’s cabinet sought parliamentary backing on Monday to send peacekeepers to neighboring Iraq as requested by its NATO ally the United States.
The government sent a motion to the legislature on Monday evening–and a vote–nervously awaited by financial markets–could come as early as Tuesday.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said he believes parliament–where his party has a big majority–will approve the motion despite its rejection in March of a government move to let US forces deploy on Turkish soil for an invasion of Iraq.
"Had we had any doubts–we wouldn’t be sending this motion,” government spokesman Cemil Cicek told reporters after Monday’s five-hour cabinet meeting.
"Our desire is for parliament to consider the motion tomorrow. It will probably be considered then,” Cicek added.
A second parliamentary rejection would badly damage Erdogan’s authority and pitch Turkey’s ties with Washington–still recovering from the March decision–back into crisis.
Cicek said the motion called for a year-long deployment but did not specify how many troops would be sent.
Turkish officials have signaled in the past they could commit as many as 10,000 peacekeepers to Iraq. They are expected to be deployed in Arab Sunni-dominated central Iraq rather than in the mainly Kurdish north.
Iraqi Kurds are suspicious of Turkey’s intentions in northern Iraq–which Turkey considers part of its sphere of influence and where it keeps a few thousand troops to pursue Turkish Kurdish rebels.
"Our position on troops from neighboring countries is that it will complicate the security and political environment inside Iraq,” Barham Salih–a senior Iraqi Kurd official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan–said after meeting Turkish officials in Ankara on Monday.
"Whatever decision Turkey takes–it should always respect the will of the Iraqi people and of Iraq’s Governing Council.”
A Turkish official tried to reassure the Iraqi Kurds and urged them not to create obstacles for the peacekeepers.
"We are not going to be an occupying force in Iraq. We will be there for peace,” the official said.
The United States stipulated Turkey’s cooperation on Iraq as a condition for agreeing $8.5 billion worth of loans for Ankara late last month. But Washington said the aid would not hinge on the sending of Turkish peacekeepers to war-ravaged Iraq.
Financial markets concerned about the loans have been watching closely for the government to push through the motion. The loans are meant to bolster Turkey’s economy and to compensate for losses incurred during the US-led war in Iraq–which most Turks strongly opposed.
An opinion poll by the Denge agency published in Monday’s Radikal newspaper showed 50 percent of those asked said sending peacekeepers to Iraq was a mistake. Only 40 percent supported the government on the issue.