FORMENTOR (Reuters)–Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Turkey preferred not to send troops to Iraq if Iraqis did not want them there–but said the decision ultimately rested with the United States.
NATO member Turkey has offered troops to help stabilize Iraq after the US-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein in April–but the prospect has angered the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and rattled Kurds in northern Iraq.
At a news conference during a seminar on the Spanish island of Mallorca–Erdogan said Turkey’s offer of troops was simply a response to a US request for help.
"The request of the US was important to us–but what I wish to underline is that it’s not our ambition to be in Iraq… It was just the answer to this request,” Erdogan told the news conference–speaking through an interpreter. "Our only concern is how we can help the Iraqi people.
Iraq’s people are our neighbors and we just can’t stay out of the problems–we think,” he added.
"But if they expressed their wish that they really don’t want (us)–in that case–of course we would accept this wish,” he said–speaking on the sidelines of the Formentor forum–an annual international affairs seminar.
Pressed on this point–Erdogan told Reuters in an interview afterwards it was the US stance that would really determine if Turkish troops go to Iraq.
Erdogan said he would not consider the Governing Council as able to express the view of Iraqis on the Turkish troop issue. "The will that is sovereign in that country right now is the will of the US–as we all know,” he said.
Asked if he meant Turkish troops would not go to Iraq if the United States said it was not a good idea–Erdogan replied: "That’s correct.”
Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani was quoted on Thursday as threatening to quit the Governing Council if Turkish troops entered Iraq.
Kurds in northern Iraq are suspicious of Ankara’s motives after years of conflict between Turkish forces and Kurdish separatist rebels in the border zone.
Erdogan’s willingness to send troops to Iraq reflected a need to repair ties with Washington–strained since Turkey’s parliament rejected plans in March to let US troops attack Iraq from Turkish territory.
Erdogan told Reuters there was "nothing definite” yet on how many troops Turkey might send to Iraq–saying it depended where they were sent.
He said he could not confirm British newspaper reports on Friday that Washington was considering using Turkish troops in a supporting role in Iraq rather than controlling a region in an effort to defuse opposition to their presence. "I haven’t heard of anything of that sort as of now,” he said.