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

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.

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.

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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."

If the Pentagon hopes Turkey's decision will break a logjam of foreign resistance in putting troops Iraq, it is likely to be disappointed, Mr. Barkey and other experts say.

"This won't lead to any chain reaction," says Patrick Lang, a former Middle East intelligence analyst with the US military. "No one in the Arab world is going to do something because Turkey did, and others have their own reasons for not jumping in."

Some reports suggest the Pentagon has already negotiated with the Turks to eventually deploy troops to an area north of Baghdad, called the Sunni Triangle, where US troops have come under regular attack. The thinking behind such a deployment is that the Turks, as Sunni Muslims, could work well there.

But others with long experience in Iraq see a disaster in such a deployment. "I don't see how you could possibly send Turkish troops to the Sunni Triangle," says Mr. Lang. "The level of animosity toward them would be even more intense. You have to remember that when a Turk kicks a stray dog, he calls it an Arab."

The Turkish government is essentially out to make amends with the US government. But since the war the US has also sweetened the pie it is holding under Turkey's nose.

Last month the US agreed to make loans of up to $8.5 billion available to an economically struggling Turkey. Even though the US says the loans and the sending of troops to Iraq are not directly linked, it does say the loans are contingent upon "cooperation" on Iraq. In addition, both the Pentagon and the State Department have agreed that in exchange for cooperation on Iraq, the US will help crack down on the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has fought a war with the government and still seeks Kurdish autonomy.

Beyond that, however, Turkey, as Iraq's northern neighbor, has other regional interests in seeing a particular outcome in Iraq. For example, Turkey would not want to see a strong Iraq emerge from reconstruction, experts say, and so would hope to influence its political development by its presence.

Recognition of that is also uppermost in the minds of many Iraqis, when they say they oppose the presence of any of Iraq's neighbors. The US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council Tuesday drafted a resolution opposing the introduction of Turkish troops to help the US-led peacekeeping mission in Iraqi, but delayed issuing the document, council members said.

"There's 100 percent agreement within the Council that no troops from any of our neighbors should come to Iraq," says Noshirwan Mustaf, an assistant to Jilal Talibani, a member of the council representing the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. "All of our neighbors, whether Turkey, Iran, or Saudi Arabia, have interests here, and we worry that they could make the situation less stable."

In addition to Turkey, the US has been lobbying a group of other countries hard - including such Muslim countries as Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, as well as Korea - to send substantial numbers of troops to Iraq.

But the US has made little headway with most of those countries, which have mostly shied away from deployment for domestic political reasons. And with prospects dimming somewhat for a once sure-fire UN resolution authorizing the dispatch of foreign troops, the international political cover many countries sought is also not materializing.

Scott Baldauf in New Delhi, Dan Murhpy in Baghdad, and Yigal Schleifer in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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