ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey’s powerful military said yesterday it supported letting in U.S. troops for a war in neighboring Iraq, boosting pressure on legislators to reconsider their rejection of a measure allowing the American deployment.
The comments from Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, the nation’s top officer, came a day after Turkey’s top political leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicated that the government plans to reintroduce a new troop deployment resolution.
The two men are widely considered the most influential leaders in Turkey. The military is the most respected institution in the country and has led three coups since 1960.
Their statements seemed to have an immediate impact on parliament, where the resolution failed Saturday by just three votes.
“The conditions are changing fast,” said Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat, a deputy chairman of the governing Justice and Development Party. “Many legislators are saying that they will cast a positive vote if the motion is brought to parliament again.”
Party officials have said that a vote is not likely for two to three weeks. It was unclear, however, if the momentum building in favor of a resolution would push that timetable forward.
Washington has offered Turkey a $15 billion aid package if parliament approves the deployment of 62,000 troops. It wants the deployment so that the U.S. military can develop a powerful northern front against Saddam Hussein.
In his remarks, Ozkok said a war would be “shorter, there would be less pain” if the country backed Washington.
Ozkok said the military respected parliament’s rejection of the resolution. But he appeared to urge parliament to reconsider, stating that if Turkey did not support the United States, Ankara would have no say in Iraq’s future.
Many deputies said they voted against the resolution despite the Cabinet’s endorsement because public support is overwhelmingly against an Iraq war, with polls showing that up to 94 percent of Turks oppose a war.
Ozkok directly addressed that concern.
“They say 94 percent are against war,” he said. “It is wrong. One hundred percent of the public is against a war.”
But, he said, if Turkey allows in American troops “the war would be shorter, there would be less pain … fewer people will die.”
“Turkey is not capable of preventing the war on its own. Our choice isn’t between good and bad. Our choice is between bad and worse,” Ozkok said.