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March 21, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Turkey Moves 1,000 Soldiers Into N. Iraq
Turkey Sends 1,000 Soldiers Into Northern Iraq to Block Kurds; Move Goes Against U.S. Wishes

The Associated Press


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ANKARA, Turkey March 21

Turkey moved 1,000 soldiers into northern Iraq on Friday to beef up its forces there, a Turkish military official said. Turkey already maintains several thousand soldiers backed by a few dozen tanks in northern Iraq to chase Turkish Kurdish guerrillas. Turkey is also shifting some 5,000 soldiers to the border region, the military official said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

The Turkish foreign minister said Friday his nation was determined to send its troops over the border into northern Iraq to contain a possible refugee flow and prevent any attempt by Iraqi Kurds to break away from Iraq.

Abdullah Gul's remarks came despite strong opposition in Washington to any unilateral move by Turkey into northern Iraq. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday: "We don't see any need for any Turkish incursions into northern Iraq."

But "Turkish soldiers will go in," Gul told reporters on his return from a trip from Brussels.

Gul's statement came after Turkey agreed Friday to allow U.S. overflights for a war with Iraq, reversing an earlier decision to block Turkey's airspace because of a disagreement with the United States over a Turkish troop deployment.

Washington has warned that a Turkish incursion could lead to friendly fire incidents with U.S. forces. Iraqi Kurdish groups say the move could lead to clashes.

In Washington, a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Turkey opened its airspace without any conditions attached, adding that the U.S. administration continued to discuss the issue of Turkish troops separately.

Turkey's Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul also said Turkish and U.S. officials would continue negotiations.

Turkey has frequently sent soldiers into northern Iraq to chase Kurdish rebels belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which fought a 15-year battle for autonomy from Turkey.

Gul said Turkey wanted to prevent Iraq's breakup and to contain a possible refugee flow within Iraq's borders.

"Turkey's Iraq policy is ... Iraq's territorial integrity, that Iraq's resources are shared by the whole population ... that a refugee flow is contained within Iraq," Gul said.

"Turkey has no designs whatsoever on Iraq's territory. Turkey will take measures in line with these aims," he said.

Turkey fears that Iraq could fragment during a war, leading Iraqi Kurds to declare independence, which could encourage Turkish Kurdish rebels.

Turkey's parliament voted Thursday to allow the United States to use the airspace, a measure that would allow strike aircraft on carriers in the Mediterranean to fly more directly into Iraq.

The resolution passed by parliament would also allow Turkey to move its own forces into northern Iraq.


photo credit and caption:
Turkish soldiers guard the suburbs of Diyarkabir, southeastern Turkey, Friday, March 21, 2003 as Turkish Kurds celebrate the Newroz festival, marking the first day of spring. Turkey has said it wants to bolster its military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan to guard against a refugee influx and fight any effort to establish a separatist Kurdish state which could encourage Turkey's Kurdish separatists. Kurds have vowed to fight the Turks if they invade. (AP Photo / Anja Niedringhaus)

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

 
 
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