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With a nudge from its military, Turkey may allow in U.S. troops

©Associated Press
March 18, 2003

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Turkish leaders said Monday they were ready to press ahead with a measure to allow the U.S. military to use Turkey as a staging area for a war against Iraq.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener said the Cabinet would discuss authorization for American troops today, and parliament could take up the measure Wednesday, private NTV television reported.

"A unanimous decision was reached . . . that there is a need to move urgently," presidential spokesman Tacan Ildem said.

An earlier resolution failed by just four votes, and Turkey's government has been dragging its feet on reintroducing the measure. Polls show that more than 80 percent of the Turkish public opposes a war.

The United States has repeatedly called on Turkey's government to quickly resubmit a resolution that would let in tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to open a northern front against Iraq that would divide Saddam Hussein's army. Turkish and U.S. generals agree the strategy would make a war shorter and less bloody.

On Monday, political and military leaders called on parliament to take steps to let in foreign troops. A series of meetings ended after midnight, as the new Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, consulted members of his Cabinet and the head of Turkey's military, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok.

The military wields enormous influence in Turkey and Ozkok urged parliament to take action toward letting in the U.S. troops.

One hitch: U.S. officials have said that a $15-billion aid package designed to cushion the impact of war on Turkey's economy was no longer on the table because of the delays. As a result, Turkey's market plunged Monday.

Another complication is that any resolution would almost certainly also allow Turkish troops to cross into northern Iraq. The United States has urged Turkey not to unilaterally send its soldiers across the border.

Australia commits 2,000 troops

CANBERRA, Australia -- Prime Minister John Howard said today his government would commit 2,000 military personnel to any U.S.-led strike aimed at disarming Iraq.

"The government has authorized the chief of the Australian Defense Force to place the Australian forces already deployed in the gulf region as part of any U.S. led coalition operation that may take place in the future," a somber Howard, flanked by two Australian flags, said in a televised address to the nation.

Howard's comments came just hours after President Bush called him to ask Australian troops to join his "coalition of the willing."

"The action that has to be taken as a result of this decision has a sound legal basis in the resolutions of the Security Council that have already been passed," Howard added.

Howard said he was "very conscious" of the opposition to his decision in the Australian community. A poll published Tuesday showed 71 percent of voters oppose U.S.-led strikes.

"This government has taken a decision which it genuinely believes is in the medium and longer term interests of this country," Howard said.

Poland joins in with 200 soldiers

WARSAW, Poland -- Poland would send up to 200 soldiers to take part in a U.S.-led war with Iraq, President Aleksander Kwasniewski announced Monday.

"We are ready to use a Polish contingent in the international coalition to contribute to making Iraq comply with the U.N. resolutions," Kwasniewski said.

"It's a difficult decision but necessary."

The decision allows a contingent of several hundred Polish troops to deploy to the gulf region.

Poland backs Washington's tough line on Iraq and was among eight European countries that signed a letter pledging solidarity with the United States in its efforts to disarm Saddam Hussein.

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