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Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 13:49 GMT
Turkey bolsters Iraq border defences
US plane takes off from Incirlik airbase, Turkey
The US has requested use of Turkey's military facilities
The Turkish army has announced that it is sending additional military weapons and equipment to its south-eastern border with Iraq.

"The level of readiness of our units should be raised... for possible developments on the issue of regional security," the army general staff statement said.

"To this end, equipment and material reinforcements will be dispatched to the 2nd Army Command as of today [Wednesday]."

Polls suggest more than 80% of Turkey's citizens are against any attack on Iraq, and the revelation caused some alarm in the Turkish press, with one newspaper proclaiming "war's at our doorstep".

However, Turkey has not yet confirmed to what extent it will be prepared to participate in any US-led invasion of Iraq, and the statement tried to avoid implying any such commitment.

'Precautionary'

"We respectfully request our people not to interpret this reinforcement - which is a precautionary measure - as though an operation is about to happen, or that Turkey will take part in this operation," the statement said.

Iraqi Kurds
Iraqi Kurds are wary of Turkish participation in invasion
The 2nd Army is based in the south-eastern city of Malatya and is responsible for maintaining order along Turkey's 330-kilometre (200-mile) border with Iraq.

The Turkish newspaper Zaman published a front-page picture on Thursday of trucks crossing the Turkey-Iraq border at Harbur.

It said its photographer had counted 110 trucks on Tuesday.

Turkey fears the economic devastation war could bring.

And it is reluctant to back a war which could provoke further unrest among the fractious Kurd populations on both sides of the border.

Eye on the oil

However, a retired general told the UK's Guardian newspaper that Turkish troops would send troops into Iraq whether or not Turkey joins the invasion, to "protect refugees and prevent the Kurds getting their hands on Mosul and Kirkuk [oilfields]".

Oil pipeline from Iraq's Kirkuk well reaches the Turkish coast
Iraqi oil: a concern for Turkey too
Several thousand Turkish troops have been stationed in northern Iraq since 1996, but Kurdish groups have warned that any new Turkish forces entering northern Iraq without the specific goal of ousting Saddam Hussein will meet with armed resistance.

US and UK warplanes already use one Turkish base at Incirlik to patrol the "no-fly" zone over northern Iraq.

Ankara must decide whether to allow further use of military facilities, such as Diyarbakir and Batman airports, and whether to commit Turkish troops to the invasion.

Its national security council (MGK) will meet on Friday to decide on Turkish commitment to any invasion, followed by a meeting of the ruling Justice and Development Party at the weekend.

The final decision will then be put forward for ratification by the Turkish parliament next week.


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20 Jan 03 | Europe
21 Jan 03 | Europe
23 Jan 03 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Business
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