Iraqis Not Ecstatic About Turkish Troops

The head of Iraq's Governing Council expressed concern Wednesday over Turkey's decision to send peacekeepers here, saying the Iraqi administration was not anxious to see additional foreign troops.

The Turkish Parliament voted Tuesday to approve a government request to send peacekeepers to Iraq to help the U.S.-led coalition, a move applauded in Washington. But the decision is likely to increase strains between the United States and its Iraqi partners because of Turkey's often-controversial historical role here.

Council President Iyad Allawi (search) told The Associated Press that "important sensitivities" were involved in deploying Turkish troops in Iraq. He said the council would not take a confrontational line on the issue with the U.S.-led occupation authorities.

The Turkish deployment would be discussed raised later Wednesday with L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official in Iraq, during his weekly meeting with council members.

"The issue is a matter for several parties to decide and of which the Governing Council is one," he said. "But for the Governing Council to agree [to the Turkish deployment] is one thing and for the council not to agree is another thing ... The agreement of the council or lack of it is important on this issue."

Bremer wields a veto over the council's decisions, although he has repeatedly stated that he did not foresee a time when he would exercise that right. He and other U.S. officials in Iraq, however, have asserted that security matters remain in the hands of the coalition.

Allawi did not explain the "sensitivities" involved in the deployment of Turkish troops, but was apparently referring to the reluctance of Iraq's Kurds (search), who make up about a third of the country's 25 million people, to see Turkish troops in the country and to the controversial legacy of nearly 400 years of Ottoman rule (search) in Iraq.

A 15-year insurgency by Kurdish rebels in Turkey ended in 1999, but the rebels now have bases in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and the potential for a resumption of the fighting exists.

Turkey fears that Kurds living in an autonomous area of northern Iraq could declare independence, thus rekindling the insurgency in Turkey.

Turks are mostly Sunni Muslims and their predecessors — the Ottomans — favored Iraq's Sunnis, sidelining the Shiite Muslims, now a majority in Iraq.

A large community of ethnic Turks, known as Turkomans, also live in Iraq.

"We are still discussing the issue," said Allawi, a Shiite who had actively opposed Saddam Hussein's rule while living in exile abroad. "We shall positively take into account the needs of our friends in the coalition who are keen on having the Turkish army here, but at the same time there are important sensitivities that must be considered."

"We want Iraq to regain its independence and sovereignty at the earliest possible time and that's why we don't want more and more troops added to those already in Iraq," said Allawi.

The council, he added, wanted a bigger say in whether additional foreign troops could come to Iraq.

"We don't want to make things more volatile than they are now. We are not against any nation but we are for a wider U.N. role and a bigger say for the Governing Council in approving or disapproving the arrival of additional troops in Iraq," Allawi said.

Some council members have already called on the coalition to hand over responsibility for security to Iraqis and for a quick restoration of sovereignty. Washington insists Iraq can be sovereign again only after a freely and democratically elected government is in place, something that's unlikely to happen before late in 2004.

"We have no choice but to pursue a policy of constructive dialogue with the United States and others in the coalition," said Allawi. "But there are requirements and sensitivities that are unique to Iraq and its people which we call on our brothers in Arab, Muslim and friendly nations to take into consideration."