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Iraq: Turkish Parliament Approves Dispatch Of Peacekeeping Troops

Prague, 7 October 2003 (RFE/RL) - Ending months of uncertainty, Turkey's parliament today overwhelmingly approved a government motion authorizing the dispatch of soldiers to neighboring Iraq.

Lawmakers voted 358 to 183 in favor of sending troops at the outcome of a two-hour closed-door session. Two parliamentarians abstained.

According to the Turkish Constitution, a resolution can become law if supported by a majority of parliamentarians present.

The decision is likely to help the Islamic-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan repair ties with Washington after the diplomatic scuffle that followed parliament's refusal last March to authorize the deployment of 60,000 U.S. soldiers on Turkish territory for the Iraq war.

The Turkish government motion does not give any technical details regarding the upcoming deployment. It remains unclear where soldiers will be dispatched and how many troops Ankara will contribute to U.S.-stabilization efforts in Iraq. Ankara has said it could send up to 12,000 troops.

Speaking to reporters yesterday after Erdogan's cabinet agreed on the terms of the motion, government spokesman and Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said the troops' mandate would have a definite deadline.

"Turkish soldiers will remain [in Iraq] for one year - that is, the term of the motion we are sending to parliament has been set at a year. We will not remain there permanently. Hopefully, peace and serenity will be restored [in Iraq] as quickly as possible, thus allowing us to leave even earlier," Cicek said.

Turkey's Army General Staff yesterday ordered two infantry brigades to prepare for possible deployment in Iraq. But Cicek yesterday cautioned that even in the event of a parliamentary approval troops would not be deployed immediately.

"If we receive permission [to send troops], that does not mean that the troops will go to Iraq the next day. Talks [with the U.S. military command] are continuing in various fields. Once the government receives authorization, or permission -- there is no great difference between those two concepts -- to dispatch troops, it will become easier to conduct negotiations," he said.

Turkish troops are widely expected to be deployed in Iraq's central or southern areas to avoid any trouble with the two Kurdish factions that control the north of the country. Ankara has a poor image among Iraqi Kurds, notably for its harsh treatment of its own 12 million-strong Kurdish minority.

Iraq's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) have voiced concerns at the possible Turkish deployment, saying it would only add troubles to the country.

Hours before the Turkish parliament voted to send troops to Iraq, the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council said it would not accept troops from any neighboring state on national territory for fear of further instability.

Speaking on behalf on all council members, Mahmud Othman, a Kurd, said the provisional body was particularly adamant in its opposition to a Turkish military contingent setting foot in Iraq.

Although the Iraqi Governing Council was handpicked by the U.S. civil administration in Iraq, strains between its members and coalition forces have emerged on several issues, including the best way to hand sovereignty back to the Iraqis.

The Turkish vote aims at giving Ankara, which fears any development aiming at giving Iraqi Kurds greater autonomy might negatively impact its own Kurdish minority, a say in Iraq. It also gives the U.S. its first large contingent of peacekeepers.