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March 22, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Turkish Military Denies Iraq Deployment
Turkish Military Now Denies That 1,000 Commandos Have Been Sent Into Northern Iraq

The Associated Press


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SILOPI, Turkey March 22

The Turkish General Staff on Saturday denied reports by a military official and national newspapers that 1,000 commandos had been sent into northern Iraq.

"Turkey has not entered northern Iraq," said a spokesman for the Turkish General Staff, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. "Such news is a lie."

Another military official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, had said on Friday that soldiers, in armored personnel carriers, rolled into northeastern Iraq from near the town of Cukurca, where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran converge. He said the soldiers were reinforcing several thousand Turkish troops already on the Iraqi side of the border and were not ordered to go deeper into Iraq.

Similar reports were front-page news in Turkish newspapers Saturday and were carried on Turkish television stations throughout the night.

In response to the reported deployment, Germany threatened to withdraw its crew members from NATO surveillance planes that are protecting Turkey during the Iraq war if Turkey has, in fact, moved troops into Iraq.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Defense Minister Peter Struck issued the threat after a meeting of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Security Cabinet.

In the northwestern Iraqi border town of Zakho, there were no signs of Turkish forces and no sign that Iraqi Kurds who control the area were mobilizing.

The border area, however, is mountainous and the several thousand Turkish troops already in the region are mostly in mountain areas and not near population centers.

Washington strongly opposes any Turkish moves into northern Iraq.

"We don't see any need for any Turkish incursions into northern Iraq," Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

Powell spoke after Turkey delayed opening its airspace to U.S. warplanes for strikes against Iraq, insisting the United States agree to its demands to move troops into northern Iraq.

Turkey later dropped the demand and allowed the overflights.

Scores of Turkish tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers were positioned near the border town of Silopi and thousands of Turkish troops were also camping 4 miles away from the Iraqi border.

The entire border area has been declared a military zone and is off limits to journalists.

Some 5,000 Turkish troops were on their way to the border area, military officials said.

Turkey fears the U.S.-led war could lead Iraq to fragment, with northern Kurds declaring independence and encouraging separatists among Turkey's Kurdish rebels, who battled the army for 15 years.

"Turkish soldiers will go in," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters Friday. He said Turkey's objectives were "Iraq's territorial integrity" and containing within Iraq any refugee flow caused by the war.

"Turkey has no designs whatsoever on Iraq's territory," he said.

Turkey has maintained several thousand soldiers backed by a few dozen tanks in northern Iraq to chase Turkish Kurdish guerrillas for years.

Turkey says Turkish Kurdish rebels have benefited from the power vacuum in northern Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War to stage hit-and-run attacks in Turkey from northern Iraq.

"This time, we will not allow such a (power) vacuum," Gul said.


photo credit and caption:
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, with his deputy Mehmet Ali Sahin, left, and Environment Minister Kursad Tuzmen at the Parliament in Ankara on Friday, March 21, 2003. Turkey on Friday delayed opening its airspace to U.S. warplanes for strikes against Iraq despite parliamentary approval for the overflights, insisting the United States agree to its demands to move troops into northern Iraq, officials said. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

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

 
 
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