BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's acting president would welcome up to 10,000 Turkish peacekeepers if they are sent under a U.N. resolution and deploy in the far west of the country away from Kurdish territory, his spokesman said Tuesday.
The spokesman for Ahmad Chalabi (search), a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council's nine-member presidency who is serving for September, appeared to contradict earlier statements by the newly named foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari (search). Zebari, a member of Iraq's large Kurdish minority, said a few days ago that nations bordering Iraq should not send troops.
The 4th Infantry Division, meanwhile, reported another soldier was seriously wounded in a mortar attack Monday near the town of Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. Division spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle had no other details.
A Turkish force in Iraq is an extremely sensitive issue because of the large Kurdish population near the Turkish border, where some Kurdish rebels took refuge after fighting a 15-year rebellion in Turkey.
An estimated 37,000 people died in that fighting, and Turkey is concerned that instability in Iraq could re-ignite the war. Turks and Kurds have a centuries-old animosity.
The Kurds have never had an independent country and Turkey is worried the Iraqi Kurds may be trying to carve out a separate homeland in northern Iraq that could inspire Turkish Kurds.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul (search) said Tuesday he expects his government to decide whether to deploy Turkish peacekeepers to Iraq by the end of this month and believes lawmakers would support deploying a force.
Turkey is under heavy pressure from the United States to send troops but is keenly aware that such a move could divide the ruling party and threaten the government's stability.
Turks overwhelmingly opposed the war in Iraq and many question whether their soldiers should risk dying for a mission they largely don't support.
Yet the influential Turkish military backs the mission.
"The legitimacy (of the U.S.-led invasion) can be debated, but that's in the past now," said Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, head of the military. "If the United States is unsuccessful and there is instability there, this will concern Turkey."
Entifadh Kanbar, the Chalabi spokesman, said at a news conference Tuesday that "we are welcoming the participation of Turkish forces under the United Nations resolution" for peace and prosperity in western Iraq under the condition that its troops not exceed 10,000.
Kanbar also said Chalabi would visit Turkey on the invitation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"This is going to be a very important visit," Kanbar said.
Meanwhile in Cairo, Egypt, the Arab League granted the fledgling Iraqi Governing Council the Baghdad seat on the 22-member pan-Arab body early Tuesday. The decision was the league's first officially recognizing the U.S.-picked council as a legitimate authority and gives a boost to the U.S.-led occupation.
Later Tuesday, Zebari took his country's seat. People in Iraq generally welcomed the Arab League recognition, but many said they felt it had been granted under U.S. pressure.
While sporadic attacks continued against U.S. forces, Tuesday marked the eighth day running that the U.S. military reported no combat deaths.
Since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1, 149 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, 11 more than the number of deaths during heavy fighting.
Washington has asked other countries to help stabilize Iraq. On Tuesday, Denmark decided Tuesday to send 90 more soldiers — not because of the U.S. call, but to reinforce the 400-strong contingent that has been there since June.
Also Tuesday, firefighters contained an oil fire blamed on saboteurs on the major Turkish-bound pipeline, while witnesses said three U.S. soldiers were wounded when their Humvee hit a mine on the road near Fallujah.
The U.S. military confirmed the incident but had no details. Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, has proven one of the most dangerous places for the U.S.-led occupation force. It sits in the so-called "Sunni Triangle," the area north and west of Baghdad where support for ousted dictator Saddam Hussein remains strong.
Firefighters smothered a pipeline fire that was set by saboteurs on Monday. It was the fifth such attack on the oil infrastructure in less than a month. The acts of sabotage have shut the export pipeline to Turkey and dampened the U.S.-led coalition's hopes of using Iraq's oil revenues to help pay for reconstruction efforts in the country.
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, has estimated the country is losing $7 million daily because of damage to the major Turkish-bound pipeline that carries oil from the Kirkuk fields to a Mediterranean port at Ceyhan in Turkey.
Adel al-Qazzaz, the director general of the Northern Oil Co., said the line had carried 35,000 barrels a day from the Janbour oil field 20 miles southeast of Kirkuk to the main pipeline that originates in the northeastern Iraqi city.
Iraq has the world's second-largest proven crude reserves, at 112 billion barrels, but its pipelines, pumping stations and oil reservoirs are dilapidated after more than a decade of neglect. The giant Kirkuk oil fields account for 40 percent of Iraq's oil production, but attempts to resume exports have been crippled by sabotage.