Turkey allows U.S. access to airspace, ignores ground use request

(HAS TRIM) By Daniel Rubin Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) ANKARA, Turkey _ The Turkish Parliament voted Thursday to open the country’s airspace to U.S warplanes, setting the stage for a second front in northern Iraq, which allies hope will speed the war and save lives. The government-sponsored proposal allows American-led coalition planes and missiles to fly over Turkey, but doesn’t address a U.S. request to use military bases or move ground troops across Muslim Turkey, a NATO ally. No date is set for a vote on that larger request. Thursday’s decision, which passed 332-202, gives warplanes based in Europe and the United States a path into Iraq other than over Israel and Jordan. That will make it easier for the American-led coalition to move troops and supplies into northern Iraq, which could help the massive humanitarian effort it expects will be needed there after the fighting. But the vote also authorizes Turkey to sends its soldiers over the border into northern Iraq for up to six months. Such a move would be bound to anger ethnic Kurds, who inhabit an autonomous zone in northern Iraq. Turkey waged a 13-year campaign against the separatist Kurdish Workers Party in southeast Turkey. U.S. officials have told Turkish officials that their army’s presence in northern Iraq could destabilize the volatile population. But Turkey has insisted on its right to use its troops to stem a refugee crisis or to battle Kurdish militants if its national security is threatened. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview Thursday that Washington had asked Turkey not to send its troops into northern Iraq, although it apparently hasn’t received firm assurances on that score from Ankara. “Our ears are closed to these kinds of remarks,” said Emin Sirin, the deputy chair of the Turkish Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, who said he expected 25,000 to 30,000 Turkish troops to buffer the borders. “It is mainly for the security concerns. They are not going to be (there) for fights or combat.” Ilnur Cevik, the editor of Turkish Daily News, said the Turkish army wanted to be in northern Iraq “if the Americans fail to put together a viable administration in Baghdad and it is a free-for-all with opposing groups clashing.” Turkish soldiers have been stationed across the border for 12 years, their numbers ranging from 5,000 to as many as 40,000, according to analysts. With the war begun, they hope to prevent a repeat of 1991, when 450,000 Kurds crossed into Turkey at the end of the Persian Gulf War. Kurdish leaders had pledged to fight the Turks if the army crossed the border en masse. However, in meetings in Ankara this week, Iraqi opposition leaders agreed to fight under the command of coalition forces in northern Iraq. American officials hope that both sides want to avoid conflict with each other. The United States originally wanted to move 62,000 American troops south through Turkey, including the entire 4th Infantry Division. In return, it offered Turkey $6 billion in grants and about $25 billion in loans. On March 1, the Parliament voted not to allow the use of the bases and ground movements, and a vote on further cooperation has been postponed indefinitely. Powell said the United States would consider giving Turkey a lesser amount of aid once it saw what Turkey was willing to allow, but that it wouldn’t pay for overflight rights. ___ ‘copy 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.