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March 22, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Pentagon Abandons Turkey Deployment Plan
Pentagon Abandons Turkey Option for Routing Heavy Armored Force Into Northern Iraq

The Associated Press


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WASHINGTON March 22

After weeks of waiting off Turkey's coast, dozens of U.S. ships carrying weaponry for the Army's 4th Infantry Division have been redirected to the Persian Gulf, two U.S. defense officials said Saturday.

The decision ends U.S. hopes of using Turkish bases to move heavy armored forces into northern Iraq, where Bush administration officials fear conflict between Turkish forces and Iraqi Kurds.

About 40 ships carrying the division's weaponry and equipment were to begin moving through the Suez Canal on Sunday, one of the officials said. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.

The 4th Infantry's soldiers, who remained at Fort Hood, Texas, after their weaponry and equipment went to the Mediterranean last month, are likely to go to Kuwait, the officials said.

It also was possible that they could enter Iraq directly through the Gulf port of Umm Qasr, now under the control of British and U.S. Marines after clashes Friday with Iraqi forces.

The original plan had the entire division of about 17,500 soldiers heading to Turkey, along with some Army troops based in Germany. It was not immediately clear if the full division would go to Kuwait.

The redirected cargo ships are to begin arriving off the coast of Kuwait about March 30, one official said. All the ships would arrive by about April 10.

From Kuwait they could move into Iraq to serve as reinforcements if the ground war lasts more than several weeks, or as occupation forces after the Iraqi government's collapse.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, it appeared Saturday that one of Saddam Hussein's chief enforcers, Ali Hassan al-Majid al-Tikriti, was in command of the Iraqi military and security forces in a large portion of southeastern Iraq. Ali Hassan is known to his enemies as "Chemical Ali" for leading a campaign against rebellious Kurds in the 1980s that used chemical weapons to kill thousands.

The administration has said it wants to try Ali Hassan for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The Army already had hundreds of troops into southern Turkey to facilitate the possible use of bases there as a staging area for the 4th Infantry, but Turkey's parliament refused to grant access.

Turkey also has been off-limits so far for U.S. aircraft flying missions into Iraq from aircraft carriers in the eastern Mediterranean, officials said Saturday.

As an alternative for securing northern Iraq with the tanks and other heavy armor of the 4th Infantry, U.S. special operations forces are now in the area and other conventional forces may join them, officials have said.

Northern Iraq is a particularly sensitive area because of the autonomous Kurdish region and the potential for Kurdish conflict with Turkish forces.

There were Friday that Turkish soldiers in armored personnel carriers had rolled into northern Iraq near where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran converge. But the Turkish military on Saturday denied it. The reports had said 1,000 Turkish commandos had crossed the border.

The United States has no evidence of Turkish movements or new any new incursions in northern Iraq, a senior Bush administration official said.

On several fronts Saturday, U.S. troops kept up their push into Iraq, bolstered by the surrender of thousands of Iraqi forces, including an entire army division. Neighboring Iran protested over strikes on Iranian territory by at least three U.S. missiles.

As the Army's 3rd Infantry Division surged more than 100 miles across the desert toward the capital of Baghdad, U.S. and British Marines closed in on Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.

The battle for Basra, a strategic oil hub of 1.3 million people that is about three dozen miles from Iraq's southern border with Kuwait, got a boost Friday when the main Iraqi army division guarding the city surrendered from its top leaders down.

Iraq's 51st Infantry Division (Mechanized), comprising some 8,000 soldiers and about 200 tanks, was regarded as one of the better units in Saddam Hussein's regular military, though it was not part of the more elite Republican Guard.

An Iraqi military spokesman in Baghdad who declined to give his name said Pentagon claims the 51st Division had surrendered were untrue.

Far to the north, the United States used five missiles to attack positions of Ansar al-Islam, a radical group linked to al-Qaida, which controls a small enclave within semiautonomous Kurdish regions.

Pentagon officials said as many as three missiles may have missed their targets in Iraq and landed across the border in Iran. Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency reported that four foreign missiles had landed in Iran during the first two days of the American offensive, injuring at least three people.


photo credit and caption:
Turkish riot police stand guard, with a huge poster of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the background, in front of the Justice and Development Party's Istanbul office in Turkey, Saturday March 22, 2003. The Turkish military Saturday denied reports that some 1,000 Turkish commandos crossed into northern Iraq, a military move that would likely increase tensions with Iraqi Kurds and Washington. (AP Photo/Osman Orsal)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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