DIYARBAKIR, Turkey – Turkey's military chief of staff pledged Wednesday to coordinate with the United States before sending troops into northern Iraq and said there would be no deployment unless a refugee crisis erupted or Turkey's security was threatened.
Gen. Hilmi Ozkok's softer tone was similar to that of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul who said Tuesday that Turkey would send forces into northern Iraq to stop any flood of refugees only in case of crisis.
The United States has been pressuring Turkey not to send its forces into northern Iraq. Washington is concerned about possible friendly fire incidents with U.S. forces and potential clashes between Turkish troops and Iraqi Kurds.
Turkey already has a few thousand troops stationed in northern Iraq, to defend its border against Turkish Kurdish rebels who seek autonomy. Turkey fears that the battle against Saddam Hussein will leave an independent Kurdish region on its border, encouraging the Kurdish separatists Turkey has battled for years in its southeast.
Hundreds of thousands of starving, freezing Iraqi Kurds fled Saddam's forces for the Turkish border after the 1991 Gulf War, creating a humanitarian disaster for Turkey.
Ozkok, dressed in military fatigues, stressed that the Turkish military had no hostile intentions.
"If things come to this point we will not go into northern Iraq to fight a war or to occupy," Ozkok read from a statement.
"We have no intention to create a buffer zone, we have no secret aim or goal," he said. "We have no enmity against anyone."
He did, however express some resentment toward Washington.
"I find it hard to understand that those beyond the oceans, who say they are threatened, do not believe Turkey when it says it faces the same threat from right across its border," Ozkok said.
The European Union is also pressuring Turkey not to send its forces unilaterally into northern Iraq.
The White House is requesting that the Congress approve $1 billion in aid for Turkey, which is allowing U.S. warplanes to use its airspace for attacks on Iraq.
A $6 billion aid package for Turkey was shelved when Turkey refused to permit U.S. troops to invade northern Iraq from Turkish territory.