Facebook Twitter

TURKS DIVIDED ON EXTENSION OF MANDATE FOR U.S.-LED FORCE

SHARE TURKS DIVIDED ON EXTENSION OF MANDATE FOR U.S.-LED FORCE

Turks are divided on whether they want a U.S.-led air force stationed here for the protection of Iraqi Kurds to stay on after its mandate expires this month.

The issue is sensitive because Turkey is fighting its own Kurdish guerrilla insurrection. The parliament vote, scheduled for Tuesday, comes at a time of strained relations with the United States over Turkey's human rights record.Many politicians have campaigned against the allied force, called Provide Comfort, claiming that it has allowed Kurdish rebels to operate freely in northern Iraq since the 1991 gulf war. They also oppose Iraqi Kurdish aspirations for a federal state, fearing that might encourage Turkey's Kurdish minority.

But supporters of Provide Comfort, including President Suleyman Demirel, say the force's presence allows Turkey to conduct cross-border attacks on Kurdish rebels without international reaction. Political analysts believe the parliament will approve another six-month extension of the mandate.

The force of 70 U.S., British and French aircraft sets off from Turkey's Incirlik air base daily for reconnaissance flights in the no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel in Iraq. Its mission is to deter Iraqi attacks on the de-facto Kurdish state set up by Iraq's 3.5 million Kurds after the war.

Mumtaz Soysal, the former foreign minister who rattled the West with his hard-line policies until his resignation a month ago, believes Turkey's financial and political interests require better ties with Iraq.

"The biggest problem about Provide Comfort is that it is preventing us from controlling events in northern Iraq. It is preventing us from normalizing our ties with Baghdad," Soysal told The Associated Press.

Demirel told reporters that the force makes it possible for the Turkish army to conduct air raids or land operations in northern Iraq to crack down on Kurdish guerrilla activities.

"If Provide Comfort leaves, we won't be able to cross that (Iraqi) border. They will then tell us that we are stepping into other people's territory," Demirel said.

The U.S. surveillance planes in Provide Comfort also provide the Turkish army with crucial intelligence about the movements of Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq.

Demirel also warned that if Provide Comfort leaves Turkey, it could go to Cyprus or even Syria. Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Cyprus, but recognizes the breakaway Turkish state in the island's north. And Syria has provided support for the Turkish Kurdish rebels.

A refusal to extend Provide Comfort would further strain relations with the United States, which is critical of Turkey's human rights violations during its armed campaign against the Kurdish guerrillas. Allegations include the evacuation and destruction of entire villages.

Washington also criticized the sentencing of eight Kurdish lawmakers to jail terms of up to 15 years this month for assisting Kurdish guerrillas.

In August, the U.S. Congress froze 10 percent of Turkey's $365 million in U.S. military aid, pending a human rights review.