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Iraqi council, U.S.-led coalition split over aid of Turkish troops

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Iraq's Governing Council on Saturday expressed adamant opposition to Turkish troops joining U.S.-led coalition forces policing Iraq—an indication that council members are trying to wrest independence from the U.S. officials who appointed them.

Washington's decision to invite Turkish troops to serve as part of the multinational force in Iraq has stirred up tension between the council and the U.S. administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, Iraqi officials say.

The council and the Coalition Provisional Authority have been discussing the use of Turkish troops.

At issue is how much influence the council will actually have on what is ultimately a coalition decision. The U.N. Security Council recognized the United States and Britain as the occupying powers in Iraq. But U.S.-led Coalition authorities are eager to invest the Council with legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis, and members of the Council are desperate to revamp a public image which sees them as simple puppets of the Americans.

The council president, Ayad Allawi, speaking at a press briefing on Saturday, gave a blanket rejection of the idea of Turkish troops in Iraq.

The recalcitrance of the governing council is due to historical animosity between Kurds in northern Iraq and the Turks. Turkey and Iraq have had difficult relations dating to the days when Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled much of the Middle East from what is now Turkey.

"It looks like it's been arranged between the Americans and the Turks," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the council. "What is very, very strange (is that) all things are decided. The Iraqi people are out."

Adel Murad, a spokesman for Jalal Talabani, another Kurdish member of the Iraqi Governing Council, cited Iraq's complicated ethnic map as the reason for the council's concern.

"If Turkey is allowed to send troops, many Shiite groups might feel threatened and will probably ask Iran to send in troops to protect the Shiites," he said. "Once we start down that road, there will be no ending to the presence of foreign troops here on behalf of one group or another."

Murad also cited the Turks' ethnic similarity to Iraq's own Turkoman minority, many of whom live in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, and have at times had tense relations with Iraqi Kurdish groups.

U.S. officials have said no decision has been reached on where the Turks would be deployed. "We take the Governing Council seriously," Bremer said Thursday. "I told the Governing Council that if they succeed, we succeed and if we succeed, they succeed."

The U.S.-led coalition badly needs additional troops to help quell unrest in Iraq, but few countries are willing to send them.

Washington is trying to get a new Security Council resolution giving the United Nations a broader mandate in Iraq, in an effort to get more countries to send troops.

But U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has said the United Nations would not play a political role without a quicker handover of control to Iraqis than the coalition wants.

In other developments Saturday, U.S. troops raided houses in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, and arrested four men. Officials said two of the four were former members of Saddam's security force.


(Knight Ridder special correspondent Payman Pejman contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.