| Miss Germany, Alexandra Vodjanikova, at Munich airport en route to Baghdad on a private peace mission. (AFP)
Baghdad/Ankara, Feb. 19 (Reuters): The northern thrust of a planned two-pronged US-led invasion of Iraq was thrown into doubt today when Turkey put off any decision on whether to allow American forces onto its soil.
In a late development today, the British embassy in Kuwait asked Britons today to leave the Gulf Arab state due to “increasing regional tension and the risk of terrorist action”.
“If you are already in Kuwait, you should leave unless you consider that your presence... is essential,” an embassy advisory to Britons said. “We are giving this advice because of the increasing regional tension and of the risk of terrorist action,” it said.
Western forces poured into the Gulf south of Iraq, and the US and Britain were working to draw up a UN resolution authorising force that they hope will placate global opposition to a war assumed to be only weeks away.
But the government of Turkey, Iraq’s northern neighbour, deferred a decision on allowing US invasion troops to be deployed on its territory, as the two states wrangled over the size of a multi-billion-dollar aid package for Ankara.
“A framework for the agreement we are looking for has not been established,” a spokesman said after a meeting of Turkey’s Cabinet. “No decision regarding the request (to parliament on admitting troops) has been made.”
The US warned its apparently reluctant ally time was running out. “Time is a critical issue for us,” US ambassador Robert Pearson said in Ankara.
Washington has shown growing frustration as the clock ticks towards military action and has made clear it is close to the point where it could abandon plans for a Turkish front. A White House spokesman said the US offer of $6 billion in grants and up to $20 billion in loan guarantees was final. Turkey has demanded more than $30 billion, US sources say.
Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul spoke by phone with US secretary of state Colin Powell today, Gul’s aides said. A Nato committee, meeting without France, approved today the deployment of defence equipment to Turkey, which fears possible counter-attacks from Iraq in the event of war.
Washington yesterday ordered 28,000 troops to the Gulf region, where it has already massed more than 180,000. The US force is expected to eventually total well over 200,000. Britain has mobilised some 40,000 troops.
US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair insist no deadline for war has been set, but military experts say the huge military build-up has been designed for an offensive in March, before temperatures in the region soar.
Britain today advised its nationals in Iraq to leave immediately, reminding them that Britons were held hostage before the 1991 Gulf War.
President Saddam Hussein maintained a defiant public stance. “The Iraqi people don’t want war, but not at any cost. We don’t compromise on our independence, dignity and right to live as free men acting freely,” he was quoted as saying during a meeting with Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.
Kurds running a breakaway enclave in northern Iraq said they had arrested agents of Baghdad who threatened the safety of Iraqi opposition leaders gathering there to plan for a future after Saddam.
The strength of the anti-war mood was clear in a debate at the United Nations, where country after country spoke out against war and said inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq should instead continue their work.
UN Security Council endorsement of the use of force against Iraq in a new resolution would help Washington’s key allies overcome opposition to war among their voters.
Resolution 1441, approved last November, threatens “serious consequences” if Iraq refuses to disarm, but many US allies want further UN endorsement of any use of force.