ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkey's prime minister said Saturday that his country would scrap plans to send troops to Iraq (search) if Iraqis continue to oppose the deployment.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (search)'s government supports sending peacekeepers to Iraq, as requested by the United States, and parliament approved a deployment last week.
But the proposed deployment has met vocal opposition from many Iraqis, who fear Turkey wil pursue its own agenda. The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (search) has come out against having Turkish troops — or troops from any neighboring nation — on Iraqi soil.
"The demands of the Iraqi people are very important for us," Erdogan was quoted as saying in Mallorca (search), Spain by Turkey's semiofficial Anatolia news agency. "We aren't longing to send soldiers to Iraq. There was a request from the United States and we're evaluating it."
"If the Iraqi people say, 'We don't want anybody,' there's nothing else we can do," Erdogan was quoted as saying. "If wanted, we'll go, if not wanted, we won't go. We haven't made a definite decision."
Erdogan added: "The requests of the United States are very important us."
The United States has welcomed a possible deployment by Turkey, hoping the Turks would become the first major contingent from a Muslim country.
But Washington is now proceeding cautiously amid opposition from members of Iraq's Governing Council and Iraqi Kurds (search). Some Turkish officials have downplayed the council's opposition and have said Iraqis would welcome Turkish troops.
On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council (search) also unanimously passed a resolution authorizing a multinational force in the neighboring nation. That has apparently boosted Washington's hopes that other nations might now contribute to a peacekeeping operation.
Turkey's government sees a deployment as a way of increasing its influence in Iraq and improving relations with the United States, which have been strained since Turkey in March refused to host U.S. troops for the war.
Many Iraqis are leery of Turkey because the Turkish Ottoman Empire ruled today's Iraq for about 400 years until World War I. Turkey also fought a bloody 15-year war with autonomy-seeking Kurdish guerillas in southeastern Turkey, heightening many Iraqi Kurds' suspicions.
Any Turkish peacekeepers would be deployed in central Iraq — away from Kurdish areas.