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Turks pitch in: new troops to Iraq

Tuesday, Turkey's parliament overwhelmingly approved sending in troops to help stabilize and rebuild Iraq.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 8, 2003


After months of high-level pressuring of foreign friends to send in troops to help with the stabilization and rebuilding of Iraq, the United States has got its first big break. Turkey, which said no to joining in the war, Tuesday voted to approve sending what could be as many as 10,000 troops to help with the peace.

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The vote is seen as a bid to repair relations with the US and to play a role in the shaping of a future Iraq. It cheers the US, which is keen to bring in large numbers of Muslim troops to join coalition forces.

Turkey has a long tradition of participating in peacekeeping forces, and its soldiers know how to do postconflict stabilization work. As a NATO member, Turkish troops have experience working with American and British forces.

But the impact may not be as far-reaching or as desirable as American planners hope, military and regional experts say.

Turkey has its own reasons for wanting to help the US at this time and is not likely to influence the decision of other Muslim countries that are waiting at least for the cover of a new UN resolution before committing any troops, analysts say.

But more worrisome to some experts is the deleterious impact that the addition of Turkish troops to what is already perceived by Iraqis as a foreign occupation could have on the prospect of rebuilding. For many, sending in representatives of the former Ottoman empire is a recipe for disaster. "Iraqis will react to this badly, because while they don't like the idea of any foreigners there, they certainly can't abide the idea of the Turks coming in," says Judith Yaphe, a former senior Iraq analyst at the CIA now at the National Defense University in Washington. "[Secretary of Defense] Donald Rumsfeld lauds this as Muslims coming in," she adds. "No, it's the original occupiers of Iraq coming in."

Turkey's desire to play a role at a key moment of regional refashioning is seen as the central reason for the parliament's approval. "They reached the judgment that if Turkey wants to be an actor and have a say in what transpires in that part of the world there is no way to stay away and not contribute," says Ilter Turan, a professor of international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University. "I think the idea is that in order to have a shaping role in what happens there, Turkey has to be present there."

Turkey is especially concerned about the presence in northern Iraq of an estimated 5,000 militants of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and has been pushing the US to take action against the PKK. "If the PKK camps in northern Iraq are to be neutralized, Turkey has to establish a basis of cooperation with the United States, a kind of quid pro quo," Mr. Turan says.

Turkish analysts also say that passing the motion this time was essential in repairing Turkey's relations with the US, which became severely strained after the March motion failed.

Yet most analysts questions the benefits the US will reap from Turkey's presence in Iraq. "The Turks are doing the right thing by saying yes, but the question for us is whether bringing in the Turks opens the door to all kinds of new problems," says Henri Barkey, a former State Department Iraq analyst now at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. "We risk undermining some very important American foreign policy goals for 10,000 Turkish troops."