Concern Grows over Turkish Troops in Iraq
Sunday 23 March 2003
There is growing concern in Europe about Turkish troop movements in northern Iraq.
Britain says it knows there is a small Turkish force in the north of Iraq, while Germany has warned it will remove its military crews on NATO planes deployed for Turkey's protection, if Ankara becomes involved in the Iraqi war.
British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon says he is aware of a small Turkish force entering Northern Iraq, but its size is consistent with a border policing operation, and to that extent he is relaxed about it.
But, he says, it is a sensitive situation Britain will keep under control.
"We are in close contact with Turkey," he said. "We continue to discuss with them the developing situation there and that is something that is of great concern to us."
Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher has warned its crews on NATO planes protecting Turkey will be withdrawn if it becomes involved in the war; and a top Russian official has warned the war could spread if Turkey gets involved.
Turkey however has denied reports it has sent more than a thousand troops into the Kurdish controlled area of Northern Iraq.
The Turkish Parliament approved the dispatch of troops on Friday, bringing it into conflict with the United States, which strongly opposes such a move.
In a short statement issued through its General Staff Command the Turkish military said there had been reports that Turkish troops had entered Northern Iraq overnight. Those reports were not true.
Earlier Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Turkish troops would enter Iraq to stop a possible wave of refugees moving towards the Turkish border, and to prevent Kurdish rebels from using the area for new operations against Turkish targets.
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said such and action would be unhelpful.
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