WASHINGTON – In a major setback to U.S. efforts to attract military help in Iraq, a Turkish official said Tuesday his country won't send peacekeeping troops without a significant change in the situation there. That makes it virtually certain the United States will have to send thousands more U.S. reservists (search) early next year.
No additional countries have contributed forces in Iraq since the United Nations Security Council (search) approved a new resolution last month. Bush administration officials had hoped the U.N. action would persuade reluctant allies to send more forces.
Turkey had been the best hope. But Turkey's ambassador to the United States, Osman Faruk Logoglu (search), said his country will not send troops without an explicit invitation from the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council -- some of whose members have vigorously opposed the idea.
The ambassador said it was up to the Americans to press the Iraqi council to make the invitation -- a move he said the United States appears unwilling to make.
"We felt that the Coalition Provisional Authority and also officials here in Washington could have probably persuaded the Iraqi Governing Council earlier on this issue," Logoglu said.
A spokesman for the American-led authority in Iraq, Dan Senor, did not return a telephone message. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States still believes Turkish troops would make a valuable contribution and that U.S. officials continue talks on the issue.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said more international forces would help ease the burden on the 132,000 American troops in Iraq. Right now, there are about 23,000 other troops from more than 30 countries.
The major part of that burden is the continuing opposition to the occupation as evidenced in daily attacks such as Tuesday's mortar barrage into central Baghdad that wounded three people.
President Bush, in California to view damage from that state's wildfires, was asked about deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the violence.
Saddam "is no longer threatening people, he is no longer in power," Bush said. Asked whether Saddam was instigating the attacks, the president said, "Oh, I'm sure he's trying to stir up trouble."
Saddam loyalists and others are trying to create havoc to force out the Americans, Bush said. "I can't tell you what he's doing," he said. "All I can tell you is he's not running Iraq. And all I can tell you, as well, there's a lot of -- some people who are upset by the fact that he's no longer in power."
Pentagon officials say an infusion of thousands more international troops could prompt a reduction in the number of U.S. forces -- although Rumsfeld said last month that any Turkish troops probably would not be in place soon enough to affect the Pentagon's current troop rotation plans.
Under those plans, about 15,000 Army National Guard troops have been mobilized for possible service in Iraq beginning early next year, to replace weary active-duty troops who have been there nearly a year.
The newly mobilized troops are members of National Guard brigades from Arkansas, North Carolina and Washington state who are intended to combine with fresh active-duty troops.
In addition, the Pentagon might need to call up even more reservists in support units if Turkey or other countries don't end up sending troops, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said recently.
U.S. officials have ruled out the idea of increasing overall U.S. troop numbers in Iraq, instead saying they will speed up the process of getting trained Iraqi security forces into the streets to deal with an increasingly sophisticated and deadly insurgency.
American officials had pressed Turkey, the only majority Muslim nation in NATO, to approve sending up to 10,000 troops. Turkey's parliament voted last month to allow troops to join the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, Turkey's neighbor to the southeast.
But progress stalled because of opposition from some members of the Iraqi Governing Council, particularly Iraqi Kurds, one of whom now serves as the council's president. Turkey has fought since 1984 with independence-minded Kurdish militants and continues to station thousands of troops just inside Iraq's northern border.
Public opinion in Turkey also remains strongly against the U.S.-led war in Iraq or sending troops to assist in the occupation, Logoglu said. He said some Turkish officials are relieved about the impasse, since it has postponed -- perhaps indefinitely -- the politically unpopular move of actually sending troops.
Turkey rejected U.S. overtures last winter to allow American troops to invade northern Iraq through Turkey. Logoglu said Turkish officials now recognize they missed an opportunity to help shape postwar Iraq.
"I think we would have been in a more effective position, a more influential position in Iraq had we allowed U.S. troops to go into Iraq through Turkey, but all is not lost," Logoglu said.
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. diplomat who heads the American authority in Iraq, said Saturday that the issue of Turkish peacekeepers was between Turkey and the Iraqi Governing Council.
Turkey doesn't see it that way, Logoglu said.
"For whatever reason, this [Bush] administration saw fit not to put too much counterweight on the Iraqi Governing Council," Logoglu said. "If the U.S. perception of the need for Turkish troops in Iraq changes, then perhaps that could change."