Iraqi Mistrust of Turkish Aims Has Deep Roots

Iraq may be divided among Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Kurds, Muslims and Christians, but most groups agree on one thing: They'd rather not have Turkish troops in their country.

On Oct. 7, the Turkish Parliament voted 358-183 to approve sending peacekeeping forces to Iraq, something the U.S. government sought for months. It did not specify the number of troops or set a schedule for deployment.

Members of the Iraqi Governing Council (search) quickly voiced their disapproval, adding that they opposed troops from any neighboring countries.

Council President Iyad Allawi, a Shiite Arab, said the group would "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."

Allawi's predecessor as IGC president, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, also a Shiite (search), said in September through a spokesman that Turkish troops would be welcome as long as they operated under a new U.N. resolution, numbered no more than 10,000 and confined their operations to Sunni Arab-dominated western Iraq.

A Turkish cabinet minister dismissed the Iraqi concerns.

"The interim council does not reflect or express the feelings of the Iraqi people," Education Minister Huseyin Celik said last week before leaving for the United States to attend a conference.

And U.S. officials continue to hope for Turkish participation.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told Fox News that Turkey could play a vital role in and around Baghdad.

"It is very important that we spread this load and that we bring in Islamic countries," she said. "That would be very helpful to our cause and would lead to a quicker stabilization of the situation."

Long History of Distrust

Iraqi distrust of Turkish aims is most deeply rooted in the fact that from 1534 to 1918, present-day Iraq was ruled by the Ottoman Empire (search), ancestor of modern Turkey.

More recent grievances stem from Turkish military incursions into the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, which guerrillas fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey have used as a refuge.

The Ottomans, like the British and the Baathists after them, favored the minority Sunni Muslim Arabs over the Shiite Arab majority and the northern Kurds. They divided the country into three provinces — Mosul in the north, Basra in the south and Baghdad, former capital of the Arab Muslim empire, in the center.

Joining the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I sealed the long-wobbly Ottoman Empire's fate, and in 1914 a British force landed at Basra, slowly fighting its way up the Mesopotamian river valley to reach Baghdad in 1917.

Millions of Kurds Without a Country

With the peaceful acquisition of Mosul in late 1918, present-day Iraq was created, but the distribution of millions of Kurds among Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran left the issue of one aspirant nation-state glaringly unresolved.

Although Kurds in all four countries have sought autonomy in varying degrees for the past three decades, the Turkish Kurds' fight against the central government in Ankara has been the most violent. Tens of thousands have died as a result of guerrilla warfare, military reprisals and terrorist attacks.

The establishment of a de facto Kurdish autonomous region, protected by American and British air power, in northern Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War further worried the Turkish military, which feared the region could become the kernel of an independent Kurdish state.

The enthusiastic participation of Iraqi Kurdish leaders in the postwar government seems to have put independence on the back burner for now. But the presence of small numbers of uninvited Turkish soldiers, some clandestine, in northern Iraq has done nothing to allay tensions with Ankara.

Ankara's official line is that the soldiers are safeguarding the rights of the region's small ethnic Turkish population against Kurdish and Sunni Arab land grabs.

Polls show a majority of Turks are opposed to deploying troops to Iraq. Ankara suffered a serious downturn in relations with Washington when the Islamist-dominated parliament refused to let American forces use Turkish bases during the military campaign, and demonstrations were held in Istanbul following the vote to send in soldiers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.