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Turkey threatens to send troops into Iraq

Helena Smith in Athens
Saturday April 12, 2003
The Guardian

Turkey held out the option of deploying more troops to northern Iraq yesterday, if Kurdish fighters failed to relinquish control of two key cities in the region.

Ankara announced that troops along the border with Iraq were poised to go in after being alarmed by jubilant Kurdish peshmerga pouring into the oil-rich cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

After an extraordinary meeting of Turkey's top generals, intelligence and political elite, the foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, said: "In light of new developments we've reviewed the readiness of our troops both in northern Iraq and along the border, and reinforcement plans.

"If needed, we have all kinds of plans, but for now we are not taking action. Our sensitivities are clear. Any step back is out of the question."

Turkey, with Nato's second largest army, has an estimated 70,000 soldiers, equipped with tanks and other heavy armour, along the border with Iraq. About 4,000 Turkish troops are already in northern Iraq, ostensibly to protect the Turkomans, the area's ethnic Turkish population.

Turkish intervention is not viewed lightly by the US. Kurds say they loathe the Turks more than Saddam and have and vowed to resist an incursion. Washington fears a further Turkish intervention would ignite a "war within a war".

Yesterday, paratroopers from the US 173rd Airborne Brigade were deployed to reassure Ankara that the Kurdish irregulars were not only under American control but in the process of withdrawing from the cities.

A Kurdish leader said last night that peshmerga fighters would leave Kirkuk as soon as enough American troops had arrived. Barham Salih, prime minister of the eastern sector of the Kurds' autonomous region in northern Iraq, said: "The United States will be in control of Kirkuk."

The oilfields of Kirkuk and Mosul provide about 40% of Iraq's oil output.

Turkey sees Kurdish control of either city as the first step on the way to Iraqi Kurds claiming independence. It fears that with the oil resources secured, Kurds would possess the economic power to back their dream of gaining their own state, as well as stirring secessionist sentiments among Turkey's 12 million Kurds.

Mr Gul also expressed concern for Kirkuk's Turkomans yesterday. He said reports of the Turkoman community's title deed and registry offices being looted raised suspicions that the Kurds were determined to erase them from the city.


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