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US ‘ineptly’ handled request for troops: Ankara slams Washington

October 29, 2003

ANKARA, Oct 28: Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on Tuesday charged that the United States had been inept in handling a request for Turkish troops to be sent to neighbouring Iraq to help its forces there, Anatolia news agency reported.

“Of course, there is ineptitude here. First they came, very enthusiastic, and said ‘please do not be late’ and then they saw that there are many different issues. They have many hesitations themselves,” Gul was quoted as telling reporters.

Faced with mounting casualties in postwar Iraq, Washington asked Ankara for military help, but then appeared to back-pedal on the idea in the face of unabating opposition from Iraq’s interim leadership.

The Ankara government, in the meantime, won parliamentary approval for its plans to dispatch troops, braving the ire of public opinion which is overwhelmingly opposed to extending military help to the United States in Iraq.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Washington had called a pause in talks with Ankara over Turkish deployment in Iraq, but said the plan had not been dropped.

“The Americans do not know the region very well. They did not pay much attention to the advice given to them. If the officials who are currently administering Iraq had known the region better, things would be better today,” Gul said.

The Turkish parliament authorized the government on October 7 to send soldiers to Iraq, but US officials have since failed to soften the Iraqi Governing Council’s objections to the plan.

The US-appointed body says military involvement from neighbouring countries may interfere with domestic politics and impede the already fragile reconstruction efforts in their war-ravaged country.

The Iraqi Kurds, who have long had stormy relations with Ankara, are particularly hostile, worried that Turkey, which borders their homeland in northern Iraq, could attempt to thwart their post-war political gains.

“We are not going to undertake anything as long as there are hesitations... Everything concerning us should be very clear, everybody should say ‘yes,’” Gul said.

He stressed that it was up to Washington to persuade the Iraqi leadership.

“They are supposed to convince those who they themselves have appointed... The United States is the authority in Iraq. Therefore they are our interlocutor.

“This does not mean that we disregard the Iraqi people. The wishes of the Iraqi people are very important for us,” Gul said.

Talks with the United States on the issue will continue, the minister said, adding: “We are not in a hurry.”

Many Turkish politicians, including government members, have expressed relief at the prospect of shelving the deployment plan, which public opinion opposes.

By helping the United States, the government aimed to make up for its failure to back the Iraq war and win a say in the shaping of the country’s post-war system, in which it fears the Iraqi Kurds may obtain leverage for future independence.

Such a prospect could refuel separatist violence among Kurds in neighbouring southeast Turkey.—AFP