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Turk troops to respond if Kurds attack

Ankara, Oct. 13 (Reuters): Turkey’s military said today it would respond if Kurds attacked any Turkish soldiers deployed to Iraq to help US-led forces police the country.

The deployment was sanctioned by parliament last week, but Iraqi Kurds and Ankara mistrust each other.

Ankara fears Kurds in northern Iraq could push for independence from Baghdad and encourage Kurdish separatism in southeastern Turkey.

Iraqi Kurds worry Ankara may try to secure influence in the oil-rich region.

“The necessary response will be given if Iraqi Kurds attack our convoy,” General Ilker Basbug, second-in-command of the military’s general staff, said in Ankara. He did not elaborate.

Turkey had agreed in principle with the US to command a division of soldiers north or west of Baghdad for at least a year, Basbug said.

The Nato allies are discussing where the Turkish troops will be stationed in Iraq.

Ankara already maintains forces just inside northern Iraq to pursue separatist Turkish Kurds in the area and stop them from returning to Turkey.

More than 30,000 people, mostly Kurds, have been killed since the separatists launched a guerrilla campaign in 1984, but fighting has largely subsided since the 1999 capture and imprisonment of rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Turkey has told the US it would prefer to station its troops in the province of Salahaddin, north of Baghdad, or in a region west of the capital, Turkish generals say.

The US-backed Iraqi governing council, particularly its Kurdish members, opposes Turkish troops being deployed north of Baghdad on grounds it could raise tensions with the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq that has bolstered autonomy for the region since the 1991 Gulf War.

“If (the Kurds) have a hidden agenda, then they may be disturbed. Nobody can come out and point to any incident where Turkey harmed any of our Iraqi Kurd friends,” a Turkish foreign ministry official, who declined to be identified, said.

Countries neighbouring Iraq have also come out against the Turkish deployment. “No border country should play an active role because all have an agenda,” Jordan’s King Abdullah said in Singapore.

The Foreign Ministry official said Jordan's stance was predictable and it was up to the United States to resolve opposition to the deployment.

”Iraq is seen as a sort of Arab territory by Jordan. In public statements you may not expect them to say they welcome Turkish troops,” the official said.

The Turkish Ottoman Empire controlled Iraq and much of the Middle East for centuries.

”If you go and ask Iraqis if they enjoy the presence of Polish troops or any other troops then they would say, 'No',” the official said.

Washington has been asking countries to contribute troops for Iraq as it struggles to restore stability after ousting Saddam Hussein in April and failing to obtain U.. approval for an international force to help police the country. (Additional reporting by Jalil Hamid in Putrajaya, Malaysia)

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