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U.S., Turkey Announce Operation Iraqi Freedom Support Agreement

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2003 – America's and Turkey's top diplomats today agreed on upgrading Turkish military support for U.S. and coalition forces fighting in Iraq.

Turkey will allow military supplies to be passed through its territory earmarked for U.S. and coalition forces in northern Iraq, under an agreement brokered in talks between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in Ankara.

"Our principal area of discussion today had to do with supplies food, fuel, other kinds of supplies that might go in," Powell explained, noting that Turkey "is an important member of the coalition that is now aligned against the regime of Saddam Hussein."

Turkey had previously agreed to allow U.S. and coalition aircraft to over fly its territory, Powell noted, as well as allowing emergency landings of allied aircraft in distress.

Before and after the Iraq war started March 19, the United States had tried hard to persuade Turkey to allow U.S. troop positioning in the southern part of the country. This would form a second, northern front to bedevil Saddam's forces, in addition to an allied thrust from Kuwait in the south.

Negotiations for that initiative broke down mainly because a huge majority (more than 90 percent in some polls) of the Turkish people didn't want large numbers of American troops on their soil -- and the 4th Infantry Division was redirected to Kuwait.

The Turks are on record for opposing the war because of concern that large numbers of refugees - in this case, Kurds -- from northern Iraq would flee into southern Turkey, as they did during the 1991 Gulf War.

Turkey is wary of such a migration, as some Kurds including those now living in southern Turkey as well as those residing in northern Iraq -- would like to establish an independent homeland. And there have been rumors about possible Turkish military action in northern Iraq to block any potential Kurdish migration.

However, a massive migration of refugees into Turkey hasn't materialized, Powell pointed out. But he and Gul also announced the formation of a special U.S.-Turkish coordination group to keep an eye on the refugee situation and to enhance diplomatic rapport between the two nations.

Several hundred U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade troops parachuted into Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq March 27, and, along with U.S. special operations forces, effectively established a northern front against Hussein's troops.

Consequently, Powell declared in Ankara, "we have been able to stabilize the situation in a way that I think will keep the likelihood of a need for a [Turkish] incursion very much a low probability."

He pointed to possible Turkish aid for a post-war Iraq shorn of Saddam Hussein, his regime and the dictator's weapons of mass destruction. Powell noted it was his understanding that the Turkish government "will always act in a humanitarian way with respect to anybody who might be in distress at a particular time."

Turkey "will have an important role to play" in post-war Iraq reconstruction efforts, he remarked.

Besides direct reconstruction help, Turkey will serve as an example of a democracy to Iraq "a Muslim democracy living in peace with its friends and neighbors," he said.

"Hopefully, that is the kind of Iraq we will be creating," Powell concluded.

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