Turkey strengthens defences on Iraq border

31 January 2003
Turkey responded to the apparently increasing likelihood of war against Iraq since the Hans Blix report and President Bush's state of the union address, by sending military personnel and equipment to its south-eastern border. 'The level of readiness of our units should be raised -for possible developments on the issue of regional security,' a Turkish army statement said on 29 January. However, the statement emphasised that this deployment should not be interpreted as a decision by Turkey to participate in a US-led war on Iraq. Ankara has not yet revealed the level of assistance it will provide to the US: Washington has been putting pressure on the government to allow a large deployment of US troops in Turkey and to open its faciltities, such as Diyarbakir and Batman airports, for their use. In return, the US is offering compensation for the severe economic losses Turkey would suffer in the event of a war on its neighbour. Losses from trade with Iraq since the imposition of UN sanctions are estimated at $30,000 million. The Bush administration is said to be assembling an aid package worth up to $14,000 million, including loan guarantees and other benefits. Polls put opposition to war in the country at over 80 per cent. The national security council (MGK) is scheduled to meet on 31 January to decide what level of commitment should be given in the event of war, and Parliament must then ratify the decision.

In another sign that Turkey feels that war is increasingly likely, state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) is to withdraw its personnel from Iraq within the next three weeks. TPAO has been drilling 20 wells in northern Iraq since being granted a $2.5 million exploration contract by the Iraqi government in September 2001. A former Turkish general quoted in the UK's Guardian newspaper speculated that whether or not Turkey assisted the US against the Iraqi regime, Turkish troops would be sent into northern Iraq to prevent the Kurds taking over the Mosul and Kirkuk oilfields.

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