By SELCAN HACAOGLU, Associated Press Writer
ANKARA, Turkey – The Turkish military on Wednesday began shipping additional supplies to soldiers along the Iraqi border to strengthen their capabilities should the United States go to war with Baghdad.
The announcement by the General Staff signaled the Turkish military was speeding up preparations after President Bush’s tough threats against Iraq in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. The General Staff did not specify what type of supplies were being sent.
“It’s necessary to increase readiness of our units to prepare them ahead of possible security developments in the region,” the military said. “As of today, the units under the 2nd Army Command will be reinforced with equipment and material.”
The 2nd Army based in the southeastern city of Malatya is in charge of security along the rugged Turkish-Iraqi border.
In an attempt to avoid possible public panic over fears that Turkey could be dragged into a war in Iraq, the military said the shipments were a “precaution” and did not mean that Turkey would participate in a U.S. attack.
“It should not be understood by our people that an operation is about to happen or that Turkey is building up to participate in that operation,” the statement said.
However, Turkey has said it would not remain indifferent to developments in Iraq that could possibly threaten Turkey’s interests.
Specifically, Turkey has said it would not allow Iraqi Kurds, who enjoy autonomy in northern Iraq, to declare an independent state in the aftermath of a war. Turkey fears that such a development could inspire autonomy seeking Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey.
Turkey is under pressure from the United States to allow the stationing of U.S. troops in Turkey.
The United States has reportedly asked Turkey for permission to base 80,000 soldiers in Turkey to open a northern front against Iraq. Turkish officials, reluctant to back a war on a fellow Muslim country, have asked Washington to scale back its request to, perhaps, 20,000 .