ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey (search)'s military is ready to serve in a multinational peacekeeping force in neighboring Iraq, a top general said Sunday.
With U.S. military manpower stretched thin, the United States is looking to several countries, including Turkey, for additional troops in Iraq (search). It hopes to replace some of the exhausted U.S. units with non-American troops.
The announcement by Gen. Yasar Buyukanit at a cocktail party for journalists in Ankara (search), could help ease public opposition against contributing to the U.S.-led operation. As a largely Muslim country, Turkey could help the United States gain support in the Islamic world for its occupation of Iraq if Ankara participates in the peacekeeping.
"If there is instability next door, we can't keep our eyes closed," said Buyukanit, deputy chief of staff. It was the first time the military publicly endorsed sending peacekeepers to Iraq.
Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, made the request for Turkish troops during a visit to the country in July. Press reports in Turkey said Abizaid raised the possibility of a Turkish commitment of 10,000 troops.
Relations between the two NATO allies have been strained since March, when Turkey's parliament refused to let the U.S. military use its territory as a staging ground for an invasion.
Parliament must approve any deployment of Turkish troops abroad. Many lawmakers, who are still angry with the detention of 11 Turkish soldiers by the U.S. military in Iraq last month, have are opposed to sending the peacekeepers.
"Turkey's military is capable of carrying out any mission, but it is a political decision," Buyukanit added.
Buyukanit said top political and military leaders, including members of the government, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, and Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, the head of the military, would meet Tuesday to discuss the deployment.
Buyukanit admitted any mission could be dangerous.
"Of course, there's a risk. Otherwise, they [Iraqis] would not need a stabilizing force," he said.
Turkey maintains several thousand troops in northern Iraq, which borders Turkey, to chase Kurdish rebels who fought a 15-year war for autonomy in southeastern Turkey and to monitor the situation in northern Iraq. But those troops fall outside the scope of the U.S.-led mission.