Iraqi leader attacks US over plan to use Turkish troops

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The Independent Online

An influential Iraqi leader has accused the United States of ignoring the wishes of the Iraqi governing council on vital issues such as the invitation to Turkey to send 10,000 soldiers to Iraq.

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the 25-member governing council to which the US is supposedly delegating power, said in an interview with The Independent that the US is riding roughshod over Iraqi objections to Turkish intervention because "the Americans want to disengage their troops".

The Turkish soldiers are expected to replace US forces in the towns of Ramadi and Fallujah west of Baghdad where the Americans have suffered many casualties.

The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met MPs from his ruling party yesterday to gain support for sending Turkish troops to Iraq with a vote in parliament expected to follow. "I don't anticipate any problems," he said.

The arrival of Turkish troops is likely to further complicate the Iraqi crisis because a main objective of Ankara is to curtail the influence of the Kurds, the only part of the Iraqi population to wholeheartedly welcome US occupation. "I think they will come," said Mr Othman. Turkey is demanding that the US launch military operations against the PKK, the Turkish Kurd guerrillas, in the northern mountains of Iraq and also wants a senior Turkish official to join the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) through which the US rules Iraq.

Turkey is eager to become a player in Iraq, a position it lost when the Turkish parliament narrowly defeated a motion to allow the US to use its bases earlier in the year. But Iraqi Arabs have bitter memories of centuries of rule by the Ottoman Turks that ended when the British army captured Baghdad in 1917. At the weekend, people in Baiji, north of Baghdad, were burning Turkish trucks passing through their city.

In a rebuttal of claims by American and British officials that real authority has been delegated to Iraqis, Mr Othman said: "The general council does not have much power and if you don't have real authority you lack credibility. We will be seen by Iraqis as puppets."

As an example he said the CPA had decided to send 30,000 Iraqi policemen to be trained in Jordan at a cost of $1.3bn (£780m) in the teeth of objections from the council. "We don't agree with it," said Mr Othman. "We could train them for one third of the money. The US wants to do a favour to the Jordanians at our expense. In any case, Jordanians are generally pro-Saddam."

He added that there was a complete lack of transparency on how the CPA and the Pentagon were spending funds in Iraq, opening up opportunities for corruption. "The US Congress is supposed to give $20bn to Iraq but the Iraqis have no say in how it is spent," Mr Othman said. He believes the best solution is not for the US to leave entirely but to pull its soldiers out of the cities.

The instability of US rule in Iraq was underlined in central Baghdad yesterday when a mortar or rocket-propelled grenade exploded in the compound of the Foreign Ministry. Fortunately, the governing council's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was in London at the time and there were no casualties from the explosion.