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Saturday, March 22, 2003 Adar2 18, 5763 Israel Time:  11:19  (GMT+2)
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10:04 22/03/2003 Last update - 10:10 22/03/2003
Kurdish official denies deployment of Turkish
forces in north Iraq
By Daniel Sobelman, Haaretz Correspondent, and agencies
Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) with his deputy Mehmet Ali Sahin at the Parliament in Ankara on Friday.
(Photo: AP)

Kurdish forces in northern Iraq denied on Saturday that Turkey had sent a vanguard of commandos across the border overnight, saying that any incursion would have been resisted by Kurds.

"If any Turkish troops had entered Iraq you would hear the fighting. We are not going to roll out the red carpet for them," a senior Kurdish military official told Reuters.

"The first step they take into the country the fighting would start. Our troops have been ordered to shoot to kill," he said. "The only way they can come in is in coordination with the U.S. forces" invading Iraq.

Earlier, a Turkish military source told Reuters that about 1,500 commandos crossed Turkey's southern border at three points late on Friday, aiming to secure access for subsequent, larger deployments.

The United States has told Turkey that it would not welcome a large unilateral incursion into northern Iraq, where Kurdish authorities are suspicious of Turkish motives. Turkey says the action is to hinder attempts to create a Kurdish state and prevent the arrival of Iraqi Kurdish refugees on its territory.

"Turkish units have begun crossing into northern Iraq to take security measures at various points," the official said.

"These units will secure the safety of units that will follow. Further crossings will take place at various intervals," he said. He gave no timetable.

There had been a small garrison of Turkish troops in northern Iraq for many years, to fight Turkish Kurdish rebels based there.

The move comes shortly after Turkey said its troops would enter northern Iraq to prevent an influx of refugees across its borders.

Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin said that Turkey was expecting up to 250-300 thousand Iraqi refugees to flee toward the country. In an effort to deal with such an eventuality, Turkey established refugee camps in its territory and in northern Iraq before the war began.

Turkey's armed forces would also enter the Iraqi Kurdish enclave to prevent "terrorist activity," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters at a news conference.

Turkey had no designs on Iraqi territory, he added.

U.S. granted use of Turkish airspace
Also Friday, Turkey agreed to allow U.S. warplanes to overfly Turkish territory in attacks on Iraq, after failing to link the issue to free access for its troops to Iraq.

The United States insists the two issues should not be
linked.

U.S. officials said Turkey delayed opening its airspace to U.S. warplanes for despite parliamentary approval for the overflights, insisting the United States agree to its demands to move troops into northern Iraq.

Thursday's vote by the Turkish parliament granting overflight rights follows intense lobbying by the U.S., but falls far short of Washington's original request to send 62,000 soldiers to Turkey to open up a northern front against Iraq that would divide the Iraqi army.

Polls show up to 94 percent of Turks are against a war against Iraq, opposition that contributed to months of delays by Turkey's government.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed the vote granting airspace rights, but said the United States remained "opposed to unilateral action by Turkey or by any party in northern Iraq."

Parliament earlier this month failed to pass a resolution that would have let in U.S. ground troops for an Iraq invasion.

Washington had offered Ankara a package of $15 billion in loans and grants if it lets in U.S. troops for a ground war. But the American aid package was withdrawn as war drew closer and it became clear that even if Turkey voted in favor, the U.S. military would not have time to bring in the units.

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