ANKARA, Turkey, March 5 (UPI) -- Turkey's powerful military Wednesday came out in support of the Justice and Development Party government's efforts to win parliamentary approval for a U.S.-Turkish agreement authorizing the presence of U.S. troops.
The chief of the General Staff, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, in a rare statement to the press, said, "Our views are reflected in the government resolution."
Last Saturday the Turkish Grand National Assembly, as the parliament is called, failed by a narrow margin to approve a government resolution on the agreement.
The joint agreement allows the United States to land up to 62,000 troops and equipment in Turkey to be used to create a northern front in the expected war to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Permission to deploy the troops was sought by Washington as part of a complex and bitterly negotiated deal that included financial aid to its NATO ally's deeply troubled economy.
The same deal would also authorize the Turkish army to go into northern Iraq. Analysts said Ozkok's statement Wednesday reflected the army's interest in establishing a presence in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq during the eventual war.
The General Staff fears that the Kurds, currently enjoying autonomy from the Baghdad government, might take advantage of the war to set up an independent state.
The army says it also plans humanitarian operations inside Iraq to cope with an expected flood of refugees escaping the war.
The Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials AKP, has signaled that the government is revising the resolution and would try again to get the assembly to adopt it.
But for the moment the government is biding its time until a by-election Sunday that is expected to provide the party leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with a seat in the assembly, making it possible for him to take over from Gul as prime minister.
Ozkok's statement was expected to result in a number of assembly members changing their minds and voting in favor of the resolution, assuming it is presented anew.
The military is highly influential in domestic politics and is the institution most trusted by the Turkish public.
Opening a northern front in Iraq would shorten the war, Ozkok said, adding, "We think the pain would be less, that nothing unexpected would happen and fewer people would die, and that we will come back without firing a single shot."
His choice of words indicated that Turkish forces would not be expected to engage with Saddam's army.
Meeting accusations, especially in the United States, that Ankara was seeking to make a mercenary deal with Washington, Ozkok said Turkey had requested financial aid, not as payment for its cooperation but to compensate for economic losses the country expected to suffer in the war -- as it did in the 1991 Gulf War.
Ozkok said the issue was not just a simple yes or no to war which he said 100 percent of the Turks oppose, most of all soldiers who knew the extent of devastation brought by war. But, he continued, Turkey's calculations cannot be based on what it wishes, that war be prevented.
"Unfortunately," Ozkok said, "our only alternatives are between the worse and the worst."
If Turkey refrains from all participation in the war, he said, it would have no say in affairs after the war.
"But if we help those who are fighting (meaning the United States), then some of our difficulties would be remedied, and without actually taking part in the combat, we would be able to extend humanitarian aid to the Iraqi Kurdish refugees," Ozkok said.
The Turks remember that Saddam's repression of an Iraqi Kurdish uprising at the end of the Gulf War resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iraqis seeking refuge in Turkey, creating serious problems for Ankara.
Reacting to demonstrations Monday in the main Iraqi Kurdish cities, Irbil and Sulaimaniya, against Turkish forces entering the region, Ozkok declared that Turkey had a legal right to defend itself and called on the Kurds to cooperate.