ANKARA, Turkey – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) and Turkey's foreign minister have agreed that Turkey will not send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, officials said Friday, after plans for a deployment raised sharp opposition from Iraqis.
The decision reverses what had been a significant victory for Washington, which has pressed hard for Turkey to join peacekeeping efforts in its neighbor to the southeast to help U.S. troops there. Turkey is the only majority Muslim nation in NATO (search).
Powell and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul (search) spoke Thursday night by telephone and agreed that the offer of Turkish troops would be withdrawn, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Boucher told reporters in Washington that the "sensitivities" of the situation prompted the decision. He declined to say whether, in retrospect, the Bush administration should have sought the approval of Iraqi officials before inducing the Turkish government to volunteer troops.
The Turkish Parliament's approval last month of the deployment brought praise from the United States, but quick condemnation by Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council (search). The council said it opposed troops from Turkey — or any of Iraq's neighbors — on its soil. Many Iraqis were suspicious of the Turks, fearing they were seeking to dominate the country or would clash with Kurds in the north.
"We said from the beginning that we were not too eager anyway," Gul said Friday. "We had said we would send if our contribution would be of use. We saw that this is not the situation. That's why we took this decision."
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (search) said Turkey had never guaranteed that its soldiers would go. "We said when parliament granted us the authority that it did not necessarily mean we would send troops there," he said.
Private NTV television said Turkey's military had stopped deployment preparations.
Turkey's ambassador to the United States, Osman Faruk Logoglu, said this week that his country would not send peacekeeping troops into Iraq without an invitation from the Iraqi Governing Council. Some members of the council had expressed opposition to Turkish deployment, citing ethnic tensions and uncomfortable memories of the Ottoman empire, which ruled Iraq for about 400 years.
The Pentagon had been counting on a third multinational division, possibly led by Turkey, but that has not materialized. It announced plans Thursday to alert an additional 43,000 National Guard and Reserve support troops that they may be sent to Iraq as well.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz said in a statement that Powell thanked Turkey for its offer to help "efforts led by the United States to ensure security, stability and economic development in Iraq."
Gul and Powell "agreed that Turkey and the U.S. would continue to work together for the Iraqi people and that Turkey would assume a key role in Iraq's stability and restructuring," Dirioz added.