ANKARA, Turkey _The United States and Turkey have reached an understanding of the conditions under which Turkish troops could enter northern Iraq to protect their nation's security without triggering a war within the war against Saddam Hussein.
Zalmay Khalilzad, President Bush's special envoy to Iraqi opposition groups, has been shuttling between Turkey and northern Iraq, where he is talking to Kurdish leaders. He is trying to keep Turks and Iraqi Kurds from one another's throats by keeping them talking. In coming weeks, the consent of both parties will be essential to the success of a northern front in the Iraq war.
Addressing reporters outside Turkey's Foreign Ministry late Saturday, Khalilzad said further talks with Turkey will "identify practical ways to cooperate in a coordinated way." When talks resume Monday in the Turkish capital, the focus will be on creating a commission comprising U.S. and Turkish officials and representatives of three Iraqi opposition groups in northern Iraq.
The commission will lay out "early warning" mechanisms designed to address five concerns that Turkey says would lead it to send forces into northern Iraq.
A senior U.S. official in Turkey said there has been an "intellectual diplomatic breakthrough" in finding procedures that Turkey, the United States and the Kurds could follow so that in the event of a crisis Turkey would not feel compelled to send troops into Iraq.
The Turkish parliament already has approved sending tanks, artillery and thousands of soldiers to the Iraqi border, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Iraqi opposition group that controls much of the border area near Turkey, has warned that incursions will lead to a border war.
If the "early warning" mechanisms fail to defuse the situation, said the U.S. official, the United States would recognize Turkey's right to move into Iraq when there is "sufficient justification and there was no better alternative."
Any move by Turkey would be coordinated with the United States, but how that would happen remains under discussion. "We aren't there yet," conceded the official.
Turkey's five triggers to potentially send troops into Iraq:
_Massive movement of refugees toward its border.
_Terrorist attacks on Turkey emanating from northern Iraq.
_Threats against the thousands of Turkish forces already based along the 218-mile border with Iraq.
_Fighting between ethnic groups in the border area.
_Attacks in northern Iraq on civilians.
Turkey fears a repeat of the 1991 Gulf War, when an estimated 500,000 Kurdish refugees crossed from northern Iraq after Saddam's forces sought to punish Kurds for supporting the U.S. coalition. Turkey was unable to cope with the refugee flow, and crossing with those refugees were Kurdish separatists who want to create an independent homeland spanning what now are parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.
"Almost overnight there was half a million people," said a Turkish diplomat. "People say there won't be a repeat of that, but how can you be so sure? There are so many internally displaced people in Iraq."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.