Turkish Military Head Backs U.S. Troops

Turkey's powerful military said Wednesday it supported letting in U.S. troops for a war in neighboring Iraq, boosting pressure on legislators to reconsider their rejection of a measure allowing the American deployment.

The comments from Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, the nation's top officer, came a day after Turkey's top political leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicated that the government plans to reintroduce a new troop deployment resolution.

The two men are widely considered the most influential leaders in Turkey. The military is the most respected institution in the country and has led three coups since 1960.

Their statements seemed to have an immediate impact on parliament, where the resolution failed Saturday by just three votes.

"The conditions are changing fast," said Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat, a deputy chairman of the governing Justice and Development Party. "Many legislators are saying that they will cast a positive vote if the motion is brought to parliament again."

Party officials have said that a vote is not likely for two to three weeks. It was unclear, however, if the momentum building in favor of a resolution would push that timetable forward.

Washington has offered Turkey a $15 billion aid package if parliament approves the deployment of 62,000 troops. It wants the deployment so that the U.S. military can develop a powerful northern front against Saddam Hussein.

In his remarks, Ozkok said a war would be "shorter, there would be less pain" if the country backed Washington.

Ozkok said the military respected parliament's rejection of the resolution. But he appeared to urge parliament to reconsider, stating that if Turkey did not support the United States, Ankara would have no say in Iraq's future.

Many deputies said they voted against the resolution despite the Cabinet's endorsement because public support is overwhelmingly against an Iraq war, with polls showing that up to 94 percent of Turks oppose a war.

Ozkok directly addressed that concern.

"They say 94 percent are against war," he said. "It is wrong. One hundred percent of the public is against a war."

But, he said, if Turkey allows in American troops "the war would be shorter, there would be less pain ... fewer people will die."

"Turkey is not capable of preventing the war on its own. Our choice isn't between good and bad. Our choice is between bad and worse," Ozkok said.

"If we don't participate, we will suffer the same harm from war. However, our losses won't ever be compensated and we won't ever have a say in the aftermath," he said.

Turks fear a war could derail the country's fragile economic recovery, and the potential loss of the $15 billion aid package is also pushing legislators to reconsider. The government on Monday submitted an austerity budget that slashes spending and raises taxes.

The Sabah newspaper Tuesday published a cartoon of an impoverished, naked Turkish man who was using his "no to war" sign to cover himself.

Many analysts have been critical of the military for not pushing the government earlier.

Some Justice legislators said the party delayed an expected vote last Thursday to wait for the meeting between government and military leaders that takes place on the last Friday of every month.

Some said they expected that meeting to end with a joint statement expressing support for the troop deployment. That would likely have pushed more legislators to vote for the resolution.

"If we had expressed our views, it would have amounted to pressuring the parliament for the approval of the resolution. It wouldn't have been democratic," Ozkok said.

Some analysts say the military expected the resolution to pass and wanted the party, which has Islamic roots and is unpopular with the staunchly secular military, to alone bear the political costs of going against public opinion. Others speculate that President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who chairs the meetings, blocked the military from issuing the statement. Sezer opposes letting in U.S. troops without U.N. authorization.