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Iraq: Ankara's Ambassador To Baghdad Denies Hidden Agenda, Laments Mistrust Of Troops

The Turkish ambassador to Iraq, Osman Paksut, says last week's bombing of the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad will have less of an impact on Ankara's decision to deploy troops in the country than will the negative attitudes of Iraqis themselves.

Baghdad, 20 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Ankara's ambassador to Iraq says Turkey is discouraged by the negative attitudes of Iraqis toward the possible deployment of its troops in the country.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, Ambassador Osman Paksut says the opposition of Iraqis -- including many members of the Iraqi Governing Council -- to Turkish troops will only be a setback on the road to recovery.

Turkey's parliament recently approved a government plan to contribute troops to U.S.-led stabilization efforts in Iraq. Ankara has said it could send up to 12,000 troops. One week later, a suicide bomber attacked the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad, killing himself and wounding six others.

Paksut says Ankara is looking for a "clear invitation" from Iraqis for its presence in the country.

"We will not come as an occupying force. We would have hoped there would be clear invitation from the [Iraqi Governing] Council for that matter, and we are really quite discouraged by their attitude, not by the terrorist attack. But we are discouraged by the attitude of the Governing Council, as a matter of fact," Paksut said.

Members of the Iraqi Governing Council have said they do not want foreign troops from Muslim countries to replace U.S. forces in Iraq. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the weekend that Ankara might abandon its troop plans if Iraqis oppose the move.

Many Turks are also against the plan. Turkish police yesterday broke up several demonstrations around the country staged by those opposed to Ankara's decision.

Paksut says Turkey is caught between the conflicting opinions of the two entities effectively running Iraq -- the U.S. civil administration and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

"We don't want to come to a country where the authority is split between the CPA, the Coalition [Provisional Authority] and the occupation forces, and Iraqi bodies, which speak in two different voices and show two different directions," Paksut said.

The U.S. has welcomed Turkey's decision to contribute troops and recently approved $8.5 billion in loans to Ankara as an incentive for their cooperation.

Paksut said Turkey -- if it does deploy troops in Iraq -- has no wish to do so in specific areas. But he said, if given a choice, Ankara would prefer the north because it is near the Turkish border and would make the operation simpler and cheaper.

"We would come to any part of Iraq provided that we will be useful there, but due to some objective criteria -- like logistics, geography, lines of communication, roads and things -- it makes more sense to come to the northern parts of Iraq," Paksut said.

Many Iraqis, especially Kurds who live in the north, suspect Ankara has its own agenda in agreeing to deploy troops in Iraq -- namely, to chase fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a war for autonomy in Turkey's predominately Kurdish provinces.

Some 5,000 PKK fighters and their families are believed to be hiding in the mountains that separate northern Iraq from Iran. Imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan urged them to leave Turkey in 1999, following a 15-year military campaign against Ankara that claimed some 35,000 lives.

The U.S. has promised Ankara that it will take action against the PKK, which is on its list of terrorist organizations. But the group is not believed to be a top priority for the Bush administration at the moment.

Paksut says Turkey has no hidden agenda in Iraq. He says Ankara cannot stop fighting the PKK just because its troops may be deployed in Iraq.

Paksut says if the Kurds "are claiming to be an administration in northern Iraq, they should establish law and order and fight terrorist organizations, among them the PKK. We expect that from them."

Speaking about last week's bombing in front of the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad, Paksut says he has no idea who may have been behind the blast, which injured three Turkish embassy guards.

Paksut says he was in the embassy speaking with visitors when the attack took place. He says the whole compound shook.

"Well, of course, the first thing I saw was that we were all safe with my visitors, and of course we immediately started to find out what happened and if anyone was hurt. Again, to my relief, we found that nobody was killed and nobody was critically wounded -- only a few people slightly wounded," Paksut said.

He says the explosion heavily damaged the embassy compound and that additional security measures are being introduced to prevent further attacks.