Turkey and US start preliminary discussions on Iraq-exit strategy
by Zeynep Gurcanli
ANKARA - Turkey and the U.S. have officially began preliminary talks on the use of Turkish soil for the transfer of American troops, arms and other logistic equipment in Iraq, diplomatic sources said.
Diplomats, along with military officials from both countries, have come to the table to discuss the details of the issue, the sources added.
U.S. army chief, Adm. Mike Mullen has said the Pentagon has already examined possible exit routes through Turkey and Jordan. Both countries, longtime U.S. allies, support the withdrawal planning contingencies, said Mullen. Another alternative exit route passes through Kuwait.
However, an Associated Press report said during the weekend that the U.S. military is working through logistic obstacles and bottlenecks as it tests possible exit routes, including Turkey, Kuwait and Jordan, for battlefield equipment ahead of the withdrawal from Iraq.
The U.S. has already constructed bridge overpasses for heavy tanks on the road between the Iraqi border and the Mediterranean ports of Iskenderun and Mersin.
ANOTHER DECREE CRISIS?
As a sign that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is imminent, Turkey has extended an agreement with the U.S. that opens the Incirlik base to use by American forces as a "logistic hub," the sources added.
According to the agreement, the U.S. cannot bring "lethal" weapons and/or materials through Incirlik; it can use the base as a central inbound/outbound station for its soldiers.
If the U.S. decides to use Turkey as an exit route, approval of the Turkish parliament would be required. The deeper negotiations will start once such a decision is made, the sources in Ankara underlined.
In March 2003, parliament rejected a decree to allow U.S. troops to launch their invasion of Iraq from Turkish territory. The agreement on the Incirlik base came after a rejection of the decree.
Speculation in Ankara suggests that Turkey might play this card against the Armenian attempts to have their claims regarding the 1915 incidents recognized by the U.S. Congress.
According to the speculation, Turkey could pledge to open its borders to the U.S. on the condition that a legislation that would recognize the Armenian claims would not come to the agenda of the U.S. Congress.