ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s parliament Saturday voted to allow in 62,000 U.S. combat troops to open a northern front against Iraq (news – web sites), ending weeks of delay.
The vote, however, was extremely close at 264-251 reflecting the deep Turkish divisions over whether to back Washington in a war that is strongly opposed by an overwhelming majority of the Turkish public.
The motion empowers the government to authorize the basing of up to 62,000 troops, 255 warplanes and 65 helicopters. It also allows the government to send thousands of Turkish troops into northern Iraq.
But Turkey and the United States still have to seal an agreement over the military, political and economic conditions of the deployment before troops can arrive and ships carrying armor for the U.S. 4th Infantry Division anchored off the Turkish coast can begin to unload.
Turkey has been seeking billions of dollars in grants and loans to cushion its frail economy from the effects of war. It has also been seeking assurances that a separate Kurdish state will not be created in the aftermath of a possible war.
A diplomat said the signing could come as early as Saturday night.
Turkey’s government had been putting off any decision on the U.S. request for weeks, frustrating U.S. war planners who want to use Turkey as a staging point to open a northern front against Iraq that would shorten a war with Turkey’s southern neighbor.
Parliament speaker Bulent Arinc opened the session by cautioning legislators that “we are here for a historic session.”
Opposition politicians urged a “no” vote.
“We are calling on you not to be involved with this disgusting war. Turn back when you still have the chance, otherwise the whole Turkish public will suffer,” lawmaker Onder Sav from the Republican People’s Party said in parliament
Salih Kapusuz, deputy chairman of the governing Justice and Development Party, called for a “yes” vote and rejected criticism that the government was bowing to U.S. pressure.
“We are not afraid of any force in the world, let alone of the United States. We’re just doing whatever is best for the interests of this country,” he said.
The Justice party has been having difficulty selling the unpopular measure to its public and even to many lawmakers.
Polls show that more than 80 percent of the Turkish public opposes a war and many fear that a conflict will endanger Turkey’s frail economic recovery.
Hours before the vote, the party’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met with party legislators to try and persuade them to back the U.S. troop deployment.