Turkish Parliament Extends Provide Comfort Mandate

Voice of America
Tue, 6/18/96

Intro: The Turkish parliament tuesday extended the mandate of a U.S.-led military operation based in southern Turkey to protect Kurds in northern Iraq from possible attack by Iraq. But as Amberin Zaman reports from Ankara, the Turkish parliament made clear the extension was a temporary one to allow more time for talks.

Text: the operation, dubbed “Provide Comfort,” is made up of allied forces comprising American, French, Turkish and British warplanes, which conduct daily reconnaissance flights in what’s called the “no fly” zone over northern Iraq.

The force was established in the wake of the Iraqi Kurds failed rebellion against Saddam Hussein at the end of the 1990 gulf war. Its presence is deemed crucial to the security of an estimated three and half million Kurds in northern Iraq.

Many Turks, however, believe the operation’s real aim is to oversee the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

Turkish politicians, including leader of the pro-islamic Welfare Party, Necmettin Erbakan, and leader of the Democratic Left Party, Bulent Ecevit, have long campaigned for the departure of the allied force.

Mr. Ecevit, whose party controls 70 seats in the 550-member Turkish parliament, had been threatening to vote against the extension. Together with the islamists, who have 158 seats in the parliament, Mr. Ecevit could have blocked the extension.

But he was persuaded at the last minute not to do so by Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz. Turkish officials argue that the departure of the force could provoke a mass exodus of some estimated three and a half million Iraqi Kurds towards the Turkish border.

Many, including Prime Minister Yilmaz, believe that the terms of the agreement need revision. Proposals put forward by Turkish defense minister Oltan Sungurlu to his U.S. counterpart, defense secretary William Perry, include moving the operation’s command center from its present location in the northern Iraqi border town of Zakho to the Turkish border town of Silopi.

But U.S. officials think such a move would encourage Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to incorrectly believe that Western resolve to protect the Kurds is weakening. Over the next month, Turkish and U.S. officials are expected to continue negotiating the terms of Operation Provide Comfort, before it is scheduled to expire at the end of july. (signed)

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