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Last Updated: Monday, 13 October, 2003, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Turks warn Iraqi Kurds
General Ilker Basbug at news conference
Turkey would hit back at Kurdish attacks, says General Basbug
Turkish soldiers deployed in Iraq will open fire on Kurdish fighters if they come under attack, a senior general has warned.

Iraqi Kurds are strongly opposed to the Turkish deployment, agreed by the Turkish parliament last week, as are some members of the Iraqi governing council.

The size of the Turkish deployment, and its exact location, have yet to be agreed but confrontations are possible as convoys pass through the Iraqi Kurdish north on their way south.

The Turkish armed forces have the abilities and capacity to protect their convoys and themselves
General Ilker Basbug
"If the convoys are attacked, the necessary response will be given," said the army's deputy chief of staff, General Ilker Basbug.

"The Turkish armed forces have the abilities and capacity to protect their convoys and themselves."

The risk of possible conflict with Iraqi Kurds, and remnants of Turkish Kurdish militant groups in Iraq, has led some Turkish commentators to oppose the deployment.

There are also fears of igniting fresh tensions with Turkey's own large Kurdish population.

The army also confirmed on Monday that the objections of Iraqi Kurds would not stop the convoys passing through the region.

"The United States, which is the authority in Iraq, does not have reservations on the issue," said another general, Metin Yavuzyalcin.

The deployment was agreed by parliament despite Turkish public opposition and Iraqi doubts.

Turkish officials have said they are willing to deploy up to 10,000 soldiers, although some reports put the figure even higher.

"It is still too early to give a definite figure related to the number of troops," General Yavuzyalcin told the news conference.

Three areas have been under consideration for their deployment:

  • Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, close to Kurdish areas and including Saddam Hussein's home town, Tikrit
  • Part of Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad, along the Euphrates River, including the town of Fallujah
  • A different part of Al Anbar province, further north - an option the Turkish Government is not keen on.

The area north of Baghdad has raised the strongest objections from members of the Iraq's Governing Council, because of its close proximity to Kurdish populations.

The US has appealed for more international help to bolster its security operation in Iraq.

Poland is leading nearly two-dozen nations policing a sector in a large area of central Iraq, and the UK is commanding a sector in the south.

The Turkish troops would all be deployed in a large section in the north of the country which is under US command.

The Turkish presence would be the first major deployment of troops from a Muslim nation.

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