Turkish government declares intention to back U.S. war plan


ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Turkey's prime minister, Abdullah Gul, said yesterday that his government would ask parliament this month to let U.S. troops use the country in the event of a war with Iraq, marking the first time the government has publicly declared its intentions to back U.S. war plans.

Gul told Turkish reporters that his government had all but given up on diplomatic efforts to disarm Iraq and had decided to join the United States in its plans to confront Iraq by military means, according to a transcript of the meeting.

"We believe that in line with our national interests, we should act together with our strategic ally, the United States," Gul told reporters during a meeting in Ankara, the Turkish capital. "It was a very hard decision, we had sleepless nights, but there was nothing left to be done for a peaceful solution."

Gul said he would ask parliament on Feb. 18 to pass a resolution granting the Turkish government broad authority to allow American troops to use bases in the country to attack Iraq. Gul spoke on the eve of a parliamentary vote on whether to allow U.S. engineers to begin refurbishing Turkish bases for possible use by American troops.

A senior member of Gul's Justice and Development Party, which maintains a comfortable majority in the 547-seat national assembly, said they were confident that both resolutions would pass without difficulty. Turkish public opinion is running overwhelmingly against the country's involvement in a war with Iraq, but Turkish leaders said they believe the country would support the decision.

"We have spoken to our party members, and we don't expect any problems," a senior member of the Justice and Development Party said.

Assuming that Gul has the votes to approve the resolutions, his statements yesterday appear to set the stage for the arrival of thousands of American troops for a possible military campaign against Iraq. The U.S. government has been pressing Turkey's leaders for months to allow tens of thousands of American troops to use bases in Turkey, which shares a 150-mile-long frontier with Iraq.

U.S. military commanders want to use Turkey to launch an attack into northern Iraq, arguing that such a campaign, by occupying Iraqi forces in the region, would speed an American victory in the south.

In recent days, U.S. officials have expressed impatience with the Turkish government, and said they were on the verge of cutting Turkey out of their plans. Gul's statements came after a diplomatic blitz by U.S. officials this week; Gul spoke at length by phone with Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday.

As a secular Muslim democracy, a member of NATO and Iraq's neighbor, Turkey occupies a unique place in the crisis over Iraq.

Turkish leaders have privately told U.S. officials that they had long wanted to support the United States, and that they ultimately would, but that they were restrained by Turkish popular revulsion against a war.

Turkish leaders and the Turkish people have said that they did not want to repeat the experience of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, when Turkey was flooded with more than a half-million Iraqi refugees and trade collapsed along the Iraqi border.

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