Turkey Now Denies Sending Troops Into Iraq

The Turkish military on Saturday denied reports that 1,000 Turkish commandos had crossed into northern Iraq.

A military official said Friday that soldiers in M-113 armored personnel carriers rolled into northeastern Iraq near where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran converge. He said the soldiers were reinforcing Turkish troops already in Iraq.

Similar reports were front-page news in Turkish newspapers Saturday and were carried on Turkish television stations throughout the night.

But the Turkish general staff denied the reports.

"Such news is not true and does not reflect reality," an official statement from the military said Saturday. The statement added, however, that parliament has authorized the deployment of Turkish troops into northern Iraq.

The "Turkish armed forces has completed all its planning and is ready to implement these plans if the situation and conditions require," the statement said.

Also Saturday, U.S. defense officials said dozens of American ships carrying weaponry for the Army's 4th Infantry Division have been redirected to the Persian Gulf. The decision ends Washington's hopes of using Turkish bases to move heavy armored forces into northern Iraq.

In the northwestern Iraqi border town of Zakho, there were no signs of Turkish forces and no indication that Iraqi Kurds who control the area were mobilizing.

The border area is mountainous. The several thousand Turkish troops already in the region are mostly in mountain areas and not near population centers.

Washington strongly opposes any Turkish moves into northern Iraq.

"We don't see any need for any Turkish incursions into northern Iraq," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday.

Powell spoke after Turkey delayed opening its airspace to U.S. warplanes for strikes against Iraq, insisting Washington first agree to its demands to move more troops into northern Iraq. Turkey later dropped the demand and allowed the overflights.

The entire border area has been declared a military zone and is off-limits to journalists.

Some 5,000 Turkish troops were on their way to the border area, military officials said.

Turkey fears the U.S.-led war could lead Iraq to fragment, with northern Kurds declaring independence. That could encourage Turkey's Kurdish rebels who battled the army for 15 years, leaving 37,000 people dead.

"Turkish soldiers will go in," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters Friday. He said Turkey's objectives were "Iraq's territorial integrity" and containing any refugee flow caused by the war.

"Turkey has no designs whatsoever on Iraq's territory," he said.

Turkey says Turkish Kurdish rebels have benefited from the power vacuum in northern Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War to stage hit-and-run attacks in Turkey from northern Iraq.

"This time, we will not allow such a (power) vacuum," Gul said.