US gets overfly rights, but fears Turk invasion in N. Iraq
| ANKARA, TURKEY
The Turkish parliament made two momentous decisions Thursday. Lawmakers approved permission for US and British planes to fly over Turkish airspace to reach Iraq, but then immediately voted to send Turkey's own troops into northern Iraq.
The first decision gives coalition forces a crucial channel into northern Iraq. But the second comes as a disappointment to the Bush administration, which has tried to gain assurances from Ankara that Turkey would not unilaterally send troops into northern Iraq, a move Kurdish groups say they would see as threatening.
Both decisions were made after months of wrangling between US and Turkish officials over the Bush administration's request to use Turkey as a launchpad for a northern front. After parliament rejected a motion to approve that plan March 1 and failed to reconsider it, the US withdrew its offer of $6 billion in aid to Turkey.
US officials said they had recently gained an understanding that Turkey will deploy its military deeper into northern Iraq only under two circumstances: if refugees flood the oil-rich cities of Mosul and Kirkuk or drive toward the Turkish border, or if Turkey sees an imminent threat from the Kurdistan Workers Party, which Turkey fought with for 15 years. The Turkish military might not immediately deploy troops to Iraq, but it now has the necessary authority to do so from parliament.
Attempts to unite US allies on the eve of the war also led to this week's meeting of eight Iraqi opposition groups here and an "evolution" in the Bush administration's thinking about what would come after war, according to a senior US official.
Rather than long-term occupation, the US is finding itself compelled to consider an Iraqi interim government that would assume power more quickly - similar to the interim administration that took over after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
"There will be a rolling transfer of power to this entity that will include not only a leadership council .... " said the senior US official, "but also other free Iraqis and people inside Iraq who will become free."