WASHINGTON (AP) – Without Turkish bases to open a northern front against Iraq, the U.S. military still could take Baghdad, but with more difficulty and risk, officials and analysts said yesterday.
The U.S. war plan calls for attacks on Iraq from two directions, Kuwait in the south and Turkey in the north. That approach would complicate Iraq’s defense planning and ease U.S. logistical problems.
In a weekend move that surprised U.S. officials, the Turkish Parliament rejected a motion that would have granted a U.S. request to position tens of thousands of ground forces for the assault into northern Iraq and to station about 200 additional strike aircraft at two other bases.
Defense officials, speaking yesterday on condition of anonymity, said Gen. Tommy Franks, who would command a U.S. war in Iraq, had not yet decided to give up on Turkey. Franks said in an Associated Press interview last week that his war plans are flexible and take into account such problems.
If Turkish bases were not available to U.S. ground forces, Franks could opt to airlift a force into northern Iraq from Kuwait or elsewhere in the Persian Gulf. Instead of having the Army’s 4th Infantry Division – a heavily-armored force – roll into northern Iraq from Turkey, Franks might choose to use the 101st Airborne Division, a lighter, air mobile force.
It was not clear whether that was Turkey’s last word on the matter. Reconsideration could come as early as tomorrow, but the head of Turkey’s ruling party said yesterday there are no plans in the “foreseeable future” to seek another parliamentary vote.
Still, a senior U.S. official said the administration was evaluating the situation but did not regard the vote as necessarily final.
Several senators were less sanguine on the yesterday television talk shows.
“It’s a huge setback for our purposes. It stunned me,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “We spent the last 50 years defending them in NATO. And along comes this opportunity, and by three votes they decline the opportunity to allow us to come in through the north.”
Securing the peace once President Saddam Hussein’s government had fallen also would be more problematic without Turkey, depending on the extent of the Turkish military’s move into Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, said analyst Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And after the fighting, Cordesman said, “We can work around it, but it does increase risk” before, during and after the fighting, Cordesman said. Likewise, the Kuwait option for northern Iraq is not without risks.
“Our line of advance becomes more predictable” if the main ground assault is from Kuwait rather than being split between Kuwait and Turkey, Cordesman said.