Turkish troop deployment to Iraq provokes unease on streets
ISTANBUL (AFP) Oct 08, 2003
Turks are greeting the decision to send Turkish soldiers to Iraq with concern, uneasy at the prospect of Muslims intervening militarily in a Muslim country.

"It's sad that a Muslim country is sending soldiers to a Muslim country that is a friend," said 32-year-old bank employee, Gulcin Tuyel, following Tuesday's parliamentary decision giving the green light to troop deployment.

"The government thinks that because we are Muslims our soldiers will not have any problems over there, but nothing is less certain," she said.

"And I would not like our soldiers dying over there," added Tuyel, whose brother is a soldier and could be deployed.

Despite acknowledging that there are economic or strategic advantages for Turkish intervention in Iraq, she refuses to be convinced the move is good news.

Polls indicate that most Turks are opposed to their country, which is mainly Muslim but strictly secular, sending its forces to serve in Iraq.

Istanbul bookseller Ziya Akyildiz complained that people did not have enough information about why Turkish forces were being sent.

"What is the exact goal? War? Peace? To preserve its economic interests on its borders? To be seen well in the Americans' eyes, or another political goal?" he said.

Selcuk Onder, 36, who works for an insurance company, pointed to the lack of an international mandate for the intervention in Iraq, saying "there is no United Nations resolution for this mission".

"The division of Iraq is on its way, like in Yugoslavia, and it will be impossible to reunite the different ethnic components of the country," he said.

Parliament's decision to approve the deployment, under pressure from Washington, was a way to "erase the humiliation of the refusal of March 1", he said.

Turkish parliamentarians rejected in March a government motion authorising the stationing of US troops in Turkey ahead of its invasion of northern Iraq.

That decision led to a cooling in Turkish-US relations.

But 53-year-old restaurant owner Mehmet Karacan voiced support for the government's decision to send in the troops, saying: "We are not going to wage war."

"We are going to lend a strong hand to a neighbour and do a favour for an ally, a friend for 50 years, the United States," he said.

"Our friendship is healthy and reciprocal. We are not going to leave them midstream when they need us," he added.

As for the Iraqi people, he said there is "no reason for them to consider the Turks as enemies because we have family ties with them and they know that we are going there for their own good," he said.

A recent survey revealed that more than 72 percent of Turks oppose sending troops to war-torn Iraq.

About 100 people demonstrated in Ankara Tuesday against the deployment, limited to one year according to Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

The protest took place in front of the headquarters of the party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish television reported.