ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey has doubled its military strength in northern Iraq to 12,000 soldiers, a senior intelligence source said Tuesday, a sign Ankara wants to protect its interests if there is a war.
Meanwhile, a Turkish general urged parliament late Monday to quickly decide whether to allow the United States to use Turkish bases for an attack on Iraq, saying a delay is fraying relations with the country's closest ally.
"We have come to a critical point. From now on, we have to take a political decision. We have to do military planning," the newspaper Hurriyet quoted Maj. Gen. Bekir Kalyoncu as telling lawmakers.
Turkey is under intense pressure from the United States to allow U.S. troops to use Turkish bases, but the government is delaying a decision until after a U.N. decision on the Iraq conflict.
Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis told private NTV television Tuesday that Turkey has granted the United States permission to inspect ports and air bases in preparation for a possible war. But he said the deal has yet to be signed by the United States, which he said was concerned with the terms of the agreement that say U.S. personnel would be subject to Turkish laws.
NTV also reported that Turkey agreed to allow the passage of U.S. spy planes over Turkey on their way to Iraq. The report said that immediately after Turkey gave the green light, two spy planes conducted missions over Iraq. The report couldn't be immediately confirmed. Neither Turkish military or U.S. officials could be reached for comment.
"The ball is in the Americans' court here," Yakis said. "They say they might need approval of Congress for that."
Newspapers said a team of 150 U.S officials was expected to arrive in Turkey in the coming days to inspect facilities.
Meanwhile, the military has been moving troops into northern Iraq in the past few weeks, a senior intelligence official said.
For years, Turkey has had a few thousands soldiers in northern Iraq, hunting Turkish Kurdish rebels in the mountains. The beefed-up presence is aimed at showing Iraqi Kurds that Turkey will not tolerate a breakaway Kurdish state if there is a war.
The troops also remind Washington that if there is a war, Turkish concerns of instability on its border will have to be taken into account.
A senior Turkish intelligence official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said most of the expanded troops were part of mobile units near the Turkish border. He said the soldiers could quickly deploy deeper into Iraq if needed.
Preparations to again double the number of troops were also under way, the source said.
There were other signs of war preparations in Turkey.
Supplies of antidotes against chemical and biological weapons were being flown into southern Incirlik air base, which already houses some 50 U.S. warplanes that enforce a northern no-fly zone over Iraq, the intelligence official said.
Some hangars in southeastern Batman air base were being transformed into morgues for Turkish military casualties, sources said.
Newspapers said the United States had asked for Turkish permission to deploy up to 80,000 troops and around 5,000-6,000 special forces units.