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A slight catch to Iraq's $10m 'quake gift ...

IF RUSHING to the aid of earthquake survivors can bring together such bitter enemies as Turkey and Greece, perhaps it can buy Iraq a few much-needed friends. That, at least, seems to be the thinking of the Iraqi government.

It has already pledged to outbid US aid for the survivors of the quake which devastated north-west Turkey last month. Now it wants to build a village for those who lost their homes. According to Iraq's state-run al-Qadissiya newspaper, Baghdad will use the $10m (pounds 6.25m) of aid it has already given Turkey to build a modern village of fully furnished houses near the quake-shattered town of Izmit.

But, lest anyone should mistake the offer as an uncharacteristically selfless gesture from Saddam Hussein, Iraq has made clear what it is seeking in return: an end to the use of Turkish air bases to patrol the skies of Iraq. American and British fighters enforcing the northern no-fly zone make their flights from Turkey's Incirlik base.

Questions have been raised over the wisdom of a country whose economy is in ruins and whose people have starved, thanks to years of UN sanctions, giving away millions of dollars. But Iraq has insisted it will outdo its nemesis, the US, when it comes to aiding Turkey. Since it is short of money, it donated almost 500,000 barrels of oil worth $10m, which, as American officials pointed out, still left Iraq a little short of Washington's pledge of $10.6m.

Ending Turkish support for the no-fly zones has preoccupied Saddam Hussein's government for some time. It has tried to bully, threatening to attack Incirlik. It has tried to ingratiate itself, sending its deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, to Ankara to strike a deal - all to no avail. Its latest ploy is unlikely to have any more success.

Not that Turkey is ideologically committed to American policy on Iraq - on the contrary, the Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, has frequently criticised it. But Ankara has far too much to gain from its alliance with the world's remaining superpower. It has even been suggested that the CIA helped Turkey capture the Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in return for continued use of the base.

None of which need concern any Turkish earthquake victims who find themselves with a new home courtesy of Baghdad. As foreign powers squabble over their largesse, at least some people will benefit.