ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkey's military will allow up to 20,000 U.S. troops to pass through the country into northern Iraq in the event of war, a newspaper report said Sunday.
The report follows visits last week by the U.S. military chief of staff and the U.S. general in charge of NATO, of which Turkey is a member. The report said the agreement was between Turkish and U.S. military officials.
Turkish officials were not available to comment on the report. The Turkish Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment and a U.S. Embassy spokesman said he had no knowledge of an agreement.
Any transit of U.S. troops through Turkey would require approval in parliament, where it could face stiff opposition.
According to a report published in the Milliyet newspaper, U.S. troops would not be stationed in Turkey, but would only pass through on their way to northern Iraq, which is controlled by Kurds and is outside of Baghdad's control.
An overwhelming majority of Turks oppose military action in Iraq and Turkish legislators have balked at a U.S. request to allow U.S. troops to be based in Turkey for an Iraq operation.
On Sunday, about 5,000 demonstrators gathered in Istanbul, chanting anti-U.S. slogans and holding signs saying "We will not be America's soldiers," and "Yankee go home."
Hoping to avoid a war, Turkey hosted a meeting of Iraq's neighbors on Thursday and urged Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.
Turkey fears that a war in Iraq could deepen its economic recession, send a wave of refugees over its borders and lead to the formation of an independent Iraqi Kurdish state in northern Iraq -- a development which Turkish officials say could inspire autonomy seeking Kurdish rebels in Turkey.