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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 October, 2003, 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK
Turkey cools towards Iraq role
Coalition troops block a road leading into the holy city of Karbala
The US wants more international troops to help in Iraq
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he may reverse a decision to send troops to Iraq if Iraqis continue to oppose the idea.

Turkey's parliament had voted in favour of sending troops to Iraq at the request of the US, but the Iraqi Governing Council responded with firm opposition to the presence of troops from surrounding nations.

"If the Iraqi people say: 'We don't want anybody,' then there's nothing else we can do. If wanted, we'll go, if not wanted, we won't go. We haven't made a definite decision," Mr Erdogan said on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Bulgarian and Polish coalition troops arrived to secure a tense area near a cleric's house in the Shia holy city of Karbala after a firefight killed three US soldiers on Thursday.

The dead included an American lieutenant colonel, the highest ranking officer to be killed since coalition forces commenced their attack on 20 March.

Territorial fears

A Turkish troop deployment would represent the first major contingent from a country with a large Muslim population to serve in Iraq.

"The demands of the Iraqi people are very important to us," Mr Erdogan said from Mallorca, Spain, according to Turkey's Anatolia news agency.

"We aren't longing to send soldiers to Iraq. There was a request from the United States and we're evaluating it," he said.

Brief respite during the latest confrontation in Karbala
Religious fanatics are being blamed for the Karbala tensions
Iraqi concerns over the proposed action centre around fears Turkey could use military deployments to its strategic advantage as well as suppressing Kurds.

On Thursday, Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani threatened to quit the Governing Council if Turkish troops entered Iraq.

But under plans drawn up by Washington, any Turkish peacekeepers would be deployed in central Iraq, away from Kurdish areas.

Turkey is keen to provide troops to support US forces in Iraq to quash strained relations from March when it refused to host American troops and armour.

Both Turkey and Iraq suffered a setback of their own on Saturday when a 600-mile (1,000 kilometre) oil pipeline running from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk began working successfully but then sprang a leak.

It had been subjected to weeks of sabotage acts.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond
"The despatch of troops was never popular within the country"

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