Turkey votes troops for Iraq but Baghdad opposed

9.15am

ANKARA/BAGHDAD - Turkish lawmakers voted on Tuesday to send troops to Iraq at the request of its US occupiers, but Baghdad's Governing Council declared it was opposed to soldiers coming from any neighbour, including Turkey.

Washington has been keen to get other countries to stump up money and troops to shoulder some of the burden following from the invasion that toppled president Saddam Hussein in April.

But while it wants Turkish troops to help, the Governing Council appointed by the US-led Iraqi administration rejected having neighbours' soldiers on its soil.

"The Governing Council's stand is against the presence of troops from neighbouring countries without exception, and Turkey is one of these countries," said Nabeil al-Moussawi of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), whose head Ahmad Chalabi is a leading member of the Council.

US governor Paul Bremer has the final say on policy, but the Council's position will make it harder to persuade Iraqis to accept Turkish soldiers, approved in an overwhelming vote by Ankara's parliament on Tuesday.

The Turkish motion did not specify how many troops might be dispatched. Turkish officials have spoken in the past of sending up to 10,000 soldiers, which would be the largest contingent in the country after US and British forces.

US difficulties in Iraq were underlined by two bombs near Baghdad which killed three Americans as well as an Iraqi interpreter in separate incidents on Monday night.

With international disputes over the war still raw, few countries, even US allies in Nato, have been willing to contribute while the Americans insist on keeping control.

Turkey's decision might help to redeem it in the eyes of the United States, whose war plans it hurt ahead of the Iraqi campaign by refusing to let US forces use bases there to launch attacks.

Yet the move faces opposition from many Iraqis, not just Kurds in the north who are suspicious of Ankara's motives following years of Turkish military conflict with Turkish Kurdish separatist rebels in the border zone.

Turkey has Nato's second biggest army after the United States and would be the first mainly Muslim state to commit troops. Its forces would probably be deployed in the Arab, Sunni Muslim-dominated central region, not the mainly Kurdish north.

In a further sign of the instability even at the heart of the occupied Iraqi capital, a blast hit the Foreign Ministry compound, followed by a short exchange of gunfire nearby. The US military said there were no casualties.

In all, 91 American troops have been killed in action since President George W Bush declared major combat over on May 1, according to new figures released by the Pentagon on Tuesday.

The United States has been trying, in vain so far, to drum up support in the UN Security Council for a resolution that would continue its occupation but transfer major duties to Iraqis gradually until a constitution is written and elections are held, which could take two years.

Washington insists it -- rather than the United Nations -- should be in charge until Iraqis can govern themselves, though it has said the world body could play a role.

It faces a struggle getting enough Security Council votes after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan challenged the proposal last week.

Security Council members France and Russia, who opposed the war, are also unhappy with the draft and want a faster handover to Iraqis.

Hours of discussions at the United Nations on Monday failed to reach a deal and Washington's UN ambassador John Negroponte said it was time to "take a brief pause for everyone to digest what had been said".

Washington wants a Security Council resolution adopted before donors meet in Madrid on October 23-24 to discuss providing money to rebuild Iraq.

Iraq has massive potential oil riches but has been battered by more than two decades of wars and sanctions and expects to rely on foreign financial help for the next few years.

- REUTERS

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