Turkish soldiers set to join coalition.

Turkey was poised yesterday to become the first Muslim country to send troops to Iraq.

A bill allowing them to be deployed with coalition forces is expected to be approved today by parliament.

The prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan hopes the move will help to rebuild relations with America, severely damaged in March when parliament rejected a motion to allow US forces to use Turkey as a launch pad for a northern front in the war in Iraq.

An overwhelming majority of Turks opposed offering America such assistance at the time and opinion polls indicate that Mr Erdogan continues to run the risk of flying in the face of popular opinion.

Recent polls show that the majority of voters are against sending Turkish troops to Iraq, particularly in the absence of a UN mandate for deployment of an international peace-keeping force.

A government spokesman, said: "The United Nations has failed so far to come up with a resolution bearing Turkey's own interests in mind, so we have decided to seek parliamentary approval [to dispatch soldiers]."

Government officials said they were confident that a majority of MPs would vote in favour of the motion calling for a year-long deployment since it does not involve basing foreign troops on Turkish soil and assigns Turkish troops as peacekeepers rather than combat units.

Turkish officials have signalled in the past that they could commit as many as 10,000 peacekeepers to Iraq. They are likely to be deployed in Arab Sunni-dominated central Iraq rather than the mainly Kurdish north as the Kurds oppose the deployment.

[Source: By Amberin Zaman in Ankara, Daily Telegraph, 07Oct03]

War in Iraq

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