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Saturday, 5 October, 2002, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Turkey weighs options over Iraq
An American plane flown out of the Turkish base of Incirlik
Turkey's bases are crucial to the US
Turkey would consider any United States request to use its military bases in the event of action against Iraq, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has said.

"We are making preparations taking into account all possibilities," Mr Ecevit told reporters.

But he said his country had not yet reached a consensus with the US on Iraq and he denied a Turkish television report that Washington had already asked to deploy more warplanes and use several air bases in Turkey.

President Sezer (R) greets visiting top Iraqi official Tarik Aziz on 1 October
Turkey has been given close attention by the Iraqi authorities
During the Gulf War, Turkey was a key base for US and British planes and is still used to patrol the allies' northern no-fly zone over Iraq.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Istanbul says there is strong opposition in Turkey to a war on Iraq without international backing, but at no stage have the authorities suggested they would deny a US request for greater military cooperation.

Warning

However, senior Turkish politicians have been voicing concerns.

"I don't think that a military operation against Iraq is necessary when there is not any concrete evidence," Mr Ecevit said.

The Americans have been using the Incirlik base in southern Turkey since the early 1990s.

Mr Ecevit's comments follow an unusually strong warning from Turkey's President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

Speaking after a meeting of top government and military officials on Friday, the president said that any action against Iraq that lacked international backing would be unacceptable.

According to a report on the private NTV channel, the US request was the reason for the surprise meeting in Ankara.

NTV said the US had asked to deploy more planes at the Incirlik air base and to use two other bases at Diyarbakir and Batman in southeast Turkey.

Turkey is the only member of Nato with a land border with Iraq and has been the focus of close attention from both the American and Iraqi governments.

War fears

Turkey counts America as its key ally - it is extremely wary of antagonising it.

But it is also deeply unhappy about the thought of war.

The country lost huge amounts as a result of the Gulf War in the early 1990s and the trade embargo which followed it.

And Turkey is also worried about the prospect of greater Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq.

It spent many years crushing a Kurdish autonomy movement in its own south-east and believes that Kurds in northern Iraq could foment trouble across the border.


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Should the weapons inspectors go into Iraq now?

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See also:

04 Oct 02 | Americas
16 Jul 02 | Middle East
04 Oct 02 | Middle East
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