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Turkey kicks up troop dust

Tunceli (Turkey), March 22 (Reuters): Turkey today denied reports it had sent troops into northern Iraq overnight as part of plans to control war refugees and prevent “terrorist activity” but said it was ready to act when called upon.

Military sources in southeastern Turkey, however, stood by their contention that troops had crossed the frontier. Foreign minister Abdullah Gul said yesterday Turkey would send troops into northern Iraq to protect national interests, despite opposition from the US.

He gave no timetable. Military sources said hours later a vanguard force of 1,500 commandos had crossed the border. Television stations, newspapers and news agencies independently carried reports of an incursion, some citing crossing points and times.

“The reports in question are not true, they do not reflect reality,” a military statement said. Iraqi Kurds also denied any Turkish commandos had crossed.

The US has urged Ankara not to send any troops unilaterally into northern Iraq. It fears confrontation between Turkish troops and Kurdish groups Ankara suspects of ambitions to establish their own independent state. Fighting could seriously disrupt the American military campaign and have wider consequences during an occupation for US authorities attempting to draw a fragmented country together.

Turkey fears a Kurdish state would reignite armed Kurdish separatism in southeastern Turkey that cost 30,000 lives in the 1980s and 1990s. Iraqi Kurdish groups, for their part, fear Turkey might move to crush the autonomy they have enjoyed since the area passed beyond Baghdad’s control in 1991.

US scraps northern plans

The US has scrapped plans to move US troops through Turkey into northern Iraq and instead will send the 4th Infantry Division from Texas to Kuwait to join a thrust into embattled Iraq from the south, US officials said today. Abandonment of the use of Turkey to open a planned “northern front” in the Iraq war follows Ankara’s refusal to provide transit rights for as many as 62,000 US troops into Iraq.

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