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Coalition seeks to downplay role of Ankara's troops
Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor Friday October 17, 2003 The Guardian
The US-British coalition in Iraq is running into problems over its attempt to bolster its forces with Turkish troops.
Washington and London have been forced to rethink by the level of hostility generated in Iraq by the prospect of troops from Turkey, a neighbour and detested former colonial power.
The crisis has also sparked a fresh round of in-fighting in Washington between the Pentagon and the state department.
Several options are being considered to try to minimise Iraqi anger.
One being floated is for Turkish troops to serve in Iraq but not in uniform, a proposal that is unlikely to go down well with the Turkish high command. Another is for the Turkish troops to be given tasks that would not involve highly visible frontline policing of the kind being carried out by US and British troops. Instead, they would be used to train the Iraqi army or as border guards.
Yet another is to halve the proposed number of Turkish troops, from the estimated 10,000 being suggested at present.
The Turkish parliament voted last week to send the troops, a move gratefully seized on by the US and British governments, who have had little success in obtaining troops from other countries for duties in Iraq. But the Iraqi governing council voted by 24 to 0 against the move.
It is understood that Paul Bremer, the US envoy to Iraq and head of the coalition in Baghdad, is sympathetic to the Iraqi governing council and favours minimising the role of Turkish forces.
Mr Bremer is from the state department, though until now has enjoyed the backing of the Pentagon. But Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy US defence secretary, favours maximum involvement of Turkish troops.
The extent of the dilemma facing the US and British governments was underlined yesterday when the Iraqi Kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani, threatened to resign from the Iraq governing council if the Turkish troops arrive.
Turkey has a long history of suppression of the Kurds, including those in Iraq. Mr Barzani told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper: "The intervention of Turkish troops in Iraq will have dire consequences.
"Military involvement in Iraq by a neighbouring country will create a dangerous situation and lead to greater instability."
The urgent need for more troops to bolster US and British forces was underlined by the highest-ranking Briton in Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who said Iraq's open borders must be blocked.
"I don't believe that having open borders or ammunition dumps around the country open to the world helps in damping down the use of violence on Iraqi territory. These gaps need to be plugged," he told journalists in London on a visit from Baghdad to brief Tony Blair on recent developments.
The US and British forces are worried about the extent of easy movement across the border not only of supporters of the former regime but of elements bent on mischief and supported by the Syrian and Iranian governments.
Sir Jeremy, until recently the British ambassador to the United Nations, said there was a need to redouble efforts on the security front.
"There is a security threat and challenge, particularly in Baghdad and in the 'Ba'athist triangle' north and west of Baghdad. I think it will go on for some time. You will be reporting bangs every few days in and around Baghdad."
He added: "That is not going to knock us off our stride ... we have to redouble our efforts to meet that [threat]."
The advisors at the White House and 10 Downing Street must have been smoking crack to think the Iraqis would be pleased at the thought of armed Turks in Iraq. It would be hard to think of a dumber move.
Of course the Iraqi Governing Council voted unanimously against this move, and rightly so. To go against their wishes would be an enormous mistake.
Regardless of the embarassment it may cause, the only right thing to do is to tell the Turks, "Thanks for your kind offer of assistance, but we've changed our minds."
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