ANKARA (Reuters)-Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul sent Baghdad a letter on Friday appealing to Iraq to comply with United Nations resolutions to ward off a possible US-led war–Turkey’s trade minister said.
Minister Kursad Tuzmen arrived in Baghdad with the letter–as well as a trade delegation of 350 businessmen–as Ankara prepared to welcome 150 US military officers who will inspect Turkish military bases for possible use in any war.
Tuzmen’s visit highlights the political tightrope–which NATO-ally Turkey is walking as it tries to maintain commercial ties with the Arab state at a time when it is expected to co-operate with Washington in any military campaign.
Though it has publicly opposed war next door–fearing economic and social upheaval–Turkey is seen opening its airspace and possibly military bases if Washington hits Iraq over its suspected weapons of mass destruction.
US jets based in Turkey already patrol a "no-fly” zone over northern Iraq–in place since the 1991 Gulf War to protect Iraqi Kurds from possible attacks by the Iraqi government.
"Because of the timing it is necessary to deliver a political message written by our prime minister to the Iraqi government,” Tuzmen told reporters before he left for Baghdad.
"The letter…discusses the Iraqi situation–how it is viewed by the international community.
"It is a well-intentioned letter that includes our wishes and requests and emphasizes the importance of the United Nations resolutions–that everyone must do what he can to ensure a lasting peace,” he said.
Gul said on Friday he had authorized the US military to inspect Turkish bases to see how useful they would be in any war. The Turkish military said the 150 US military officials would arrive on Monday for about 10 days of inspections.
"I have signed a decision just for an inspection,” the state-run Anatolian news agency quoted Gul as saying.
Turkey is dragging its feet over US requests for firm commitmen’s of support if Washington attacks Baghdad.
US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said last month the United States was prepared to invest millions in upgrading Turkish bases if Washington used them for a war. Inspections could be a first step in that direction.
Ankara is also negotiating with the United States on a multi-billion-dollar package of credits and loans designed to protect the economy from the fallout of a war.
Diplomats say reasonable estimates of the cost of war range from $4-15 billion–including factors such as falling tourism revenues and rising borrowing costs.
Muslim Turkey complains it has lost more than $30 billion in trade revenue with Iraq since a UN embargo was implemented after the Gulf War. It has sought in recent months to increase trade with Iraq–sending several delegations this year.
Tuzmen described his mission as a routine working visit to discuss UN-sanctioned public tenders Turkey has won in Iraq as well as boosting commercial links with Baghdad.
"Our goal is to increase trade with our neighboring countries,” he said.
The vast majority of Turks oppose war and the foreign minister said earlier this week that public opinion would not support any large US troop deployment in Turkey.
Newspaper reports have said Washington wants to move as many as 80,000 troops through Turkey.
Turkey also fears a conflict in Iraq could spread unrest among its Kurdish population if Iraqi Kurds take advantage of the turmoil to seek independence.