U.S. aid offer prods Turkey on troops for Iraq

Posted in Iraq | 14-Sep-03 | Author: Brian Knowlton| Source: New York Times

WASHINGTON - There were hints Tuesday that the U.S. decision to seek a broader United Nations mandate in Iraq might be starting to pay off: The Bush administration said it was ready to provide Turkey with up to $8.5 billion in loans, and the acting Iraqi president said he would welcome up to 10,000 peacekeeping troops from Turkey, under certain conditions.

The United States also welcomed an important political advance for the Iraqi governing council it has created; the council was conditionally recognized by the Arab League at a meeting in Cairo, a step that could lead to further international recognition and assistance.

Ahmad Chalabi, the member of the Governing Council's nine-member presidency who is serving as president for the month of September, will travel to Turkey within days to discuss Kurdish concerns about a possible Turkish troop deployment in Iraq. A Chalabi spokesman said that he had been invited by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey said it expected a decision on troops within weeks.

A major Turkish troop contribution would represent a breakthrough of sorts for the Bush administration, which has made little apparent progress in its efforts to build the non-American portion of the Iraq coalition much beyond its current 21,000 troops, or to recruit any foreign partner to provide anything close to the 12,000 troops sent by Britain.

The United States is particularly eager to recruit peacekeepers from a Muslim country, as a way to defuse resentment among Iraqis and lessen anti-coalition violence. And a Turkish force for Iraq would help Ankara mend a relationship with Washington badly frayed by the war.

That violence claimed new victims Tuesday. U.S. forces announced their first death in a week - that of a soldier killed when a tanker truck he was driving as part of a convoy on the main road north from Baghdad was hit by an explosion. Three soldiers were wounded in a bomb attack in Falluja, to the west; nine were wounded Monday in four separate incidents.

In the latest sign of the strains the Iraq war has placed on the U.S. military, the army has announced that 20,000 U.S. Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers now in or near Iraq are being ordered to serve there for up to a full year, as regular troops do.

Additional foreign troops could help relieve such strains, U.S. officials say.

Turkey, a NATO member, proved a prickly partner in the runup to the Iraq war, catching the Bush team off balance with its decision not to permit U.S. use of its military bases in the war.

But the State Department, in a letter to congressional committees obtained by Reuters, said that it had decided to go forward with the $8.5 billion in loans to Turkey to support its "economic reform process" and to cushion the shock of the war in Iraq. The first disbursement would come as early as Sept. 20.

The possibility of sending peacekeeping troops remains contentious in predominantly Muslim Turkey, which opposed the war and worries that independence-minded Kurds in neighboring Iraq might inspire their Kurdish brethren in Turkey. A decision to send troops could threaten the government's stability.

And there are worries, too, in the north of Iraq, where ethnic Kurds resent Turkish treatment of their counterparts in Turkey, and fear Ankara may try to undercut the large measure of autonomy Iraqi Kurds enjoy in the north. An estimated 37,000 people died during a 15-year Kurdish rebellion in Turkey.

But Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, said Tuesday that if Ankara decided to offer troops, a way would be found to skirt the various obstacles. If "they wish to participate," she said, "I am quite certain that we can work out ways in which the Turkish government in which Turkish forces can participate."

A spokesman for Chalabi, Entifadh Qanbar, said that the interim Iraqi leader favored sending an eventual Turkish force to western Iraq, far from its northern border with Turkey, and to limit the force to "no more than 10,000."

According to Turkish officials quoted by Agence France-Presse, U.S. negotiators have promised to give Turkey command over its own sector of occupied Iraq if it agrees to commit troops.

Kurdish reservations to any Turkish deployment are strong, however. Hoshyar Zebari, the interim Iraqi foreign minister and a Kurd, has opposed troop deployments by any of Iraq's neighbors, and that even a Turkish deployment in the west would necessarily involve supply routes through the north that could be problematic. But Qanbar, the spokesman, said that "our opinions are really quite close" and that he expected agreement on bringing Turkish troops to Iraq.