Persian Gulf Ally Dragging Its Feet

ByABC News

Jan. 8, 2003 -- As the Bush administration prepares for a possible war against Iraq, a crucial part of the plan may be breaking down.

This key piece of the U.S. commanders' war plans would station 10,000 to 15,000 American ground troops at bases in Turkey, allowing forces to march into Iraq from the north. But the Turkish government has been dragging its feet for more than a month on U.S. requests, preventing an American survey team from even looking at possible bases.

Turkish reluctance could dramatically complicate plans for a possible U.S. invasion that sources said was to include American ground troops closing in on Baghdad from north and the south.

Troops still could be brought into northern Iraq by air, sources said, but heavy equipment and most supplies would have to come by road from Kuwait in the south.

In Saddam’s Hands

"While the air may be the most crucial of capabilities, it would also be very important for us to have the option of using ground forces from the north," said retired Gen. Gregory Newbold, a ABCNEWS military analyst. "The distances would pose and compound the problem you have if you have to operate from the south."

Instead of 100 miles from the Turkish border to key cities and oil fields in the north, it would be 600 miles by road from the south.

During the 1991 Gulf War, Turkey allowed U.S. and British jets to fly attacks out of the NATO base in Incirlik. Turkey is a member of NATO.

British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon was in the Turkish capital of Ankara today, pressing for more cooperation in a meeting with Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul and the country's top military officer, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok.

"It is important … that we emphasize the importance of United Nations resolutions," Hoon said. "There are a series in relation to Iraq, its weapons of mass destruction. We need to demonstrate to Saddam Hussein that we mean business, that we are not simply going to pass resolutions and not see them enforced. Therefore the decision is in the hands of Saddam Hussein."

Lack of Public Support in Turkey

But the new Turkish government faces massive resistance at home. The government is being hammered in the local press for being too cozy with the U.S. military. And public opinion surveys in mostly Muslim Turkey indicate nearly 90 percent opposition to a war with Iraq.

Ozkok told a reception in Ankara today that the dispute with Baghdad should be settled diplomatically. "Efforts at a peaceful resolution should continue until the end," he said, according to Reuters. "I have not heard from anyone in Turkey the idea 'let's alsogo to war with Iraq.'"

Though officials expect the Turks eventually will allow American planes to use their bases in any war, the question of ground troops, officials said, may require a visit from someone as high ranking as Vice President Dick Cheney — as well as billions of dollars in additional aid.

ABCNEWS' John McWethy and Brian Hartman contributed to this report.

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