Renewed Hopes For Turkish Bases

Turkey's prime minister-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who supports deployment of U.S. troops in an Iraq war, is asking the U.S. to specify how long its soldiers will remain in Turkey and in the region, where war is extremely unpopular.

The U.S. reportedly is pressuring Turkey to pass a new military cooperation agreement by March 17.

Erdogan, the former mayor of Istanbul and founder of the governing Justice and Development (AK) Party, also wants the U.S. to clarify how Kurdish groups in northern Iraq will be disarmed after fighting Saddam Hussein and how ethnic Turkomens in Iraq will be protected.

The sooner Turkey has answers, the sooner a new resolution authorizing military cooperation with the U.S. can be passed by parliament, Erdogan said in a meeting on Sunday with U.S. Ambassador Robert Pearson. Military issues are still being negotiated and Pearson said answers would be forthcoming, according to Milliyet.

Two weeks ago, in a stunning setback for the U.S., parliament rejected military cooperation that would allow the U.S. to base up to 62,000 troops on Turkish territory and to to open a northern front in an expected war against Iraq. More than 90 percent of Turkey's population is opposed to the expected war.

On Sunday, Erdogan overwhelmingly won election to a parliamentary seat in Siirt city in southeastern Turkey, his party garnering 85 percent of the vote. This opens the way for him to become prime minister, reshuffle the cabinet and press for a new vote on deployment of U.S. troops. It also ends his official ban from Turkish politics because of a conviction for alleged religious sedition.

The wide margin of victory for the governing AK party in Sunday's election reflected the fact that only four parties contested the election, including two far-left parties, the Worker's Party and the Turkish Communist Party, who garnered little support. The major opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP) also took part in the elections.

The main Kurdish political party, the People's Democratic Party (DEHAP), boycotted the polls. It is widely viewed as the political wing of the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK. Radikal reports today that in some of the heavily Kurdish portions of Siirt, DEHAP's boycott was so effective that only the police guarding the ballot boxes cast votes.

In Siirt's Evren district, for example, Radikal quoted the ballot box guard Fatih Ekinci as saying that,of the 310 people registered to vote, only four had done so. Those four votes were the security guards for the school where voting took place. Turnout was 63 percent of registered voters.

Erdogan met Pearson, the U.S. envoy, on Sunday and pressed for clarification of military issues, including time-frame, the disarming of Iraqi Kurds and protection of the Turkomen minority in northern Iraq, Milliyet reported.

NTV, MSNBC's Turkish affiliate, said Pearson told Erdogan that the U.S. wants a new resolution authorizing troop deployment approved by parliament by March 17 - the Iraq disarmament deadline reported to be sought in a new U.N. Security Council resolution by the U.S. and Britain.

"We will do what needs to be done, but don't pressure us on time because it can affect the stock markets negatively," Erdogan told Pearson, according to NTV. When parliament rejected military cooperation last time, Turkey's stock market plunged 10 points. It was reacting to the fact that Turkey would not receive a multi-billion dollar economic compensation package from the U.S.

The new government under Erdogan is expected to submit a new troop proposal after he formally assumes office and names his cabinet.

Under a military cooperation accord, Turkey is to send troops into northern Iraq to oversee the arming of Kurds against the Iraqi army and also their post-war disarming. Turkey is concerned that separatist Kurds in northern Iraq might unite with its own restive Kurdish minority. Turkey also is to oversee its border with Iraq to ensure that Iraqi refugees do not pour into Turkey.

The current prime minister, Abdullah Gul, is expected to resign as early as Tuesday. His government would then resign and legislative formalities confirming Erdogan would move forward.

NTV reported that because it will take one or two days for the Turkish High Election Commission to certify the results of Sunday's election, the earliest that a new government could be formed would be this coming weekend. Official results are expected to be announced on Wednesday.

The Turkish Daily News reports that Erdogan may need as long as a week to form a new government. He is expected to reduce by three or four the number of cabinet posts and oust some ministers who opposed the military cooperation agreement with the U.S., according to press reports.

The current prime minister, Abdullah Gul, is expected to be given either the deputy prime ministership or the foreign minister's portfolio. At Turkey's southeast Anatolian port of Iskenderun, U.S. transport ships are unloading equipment. CNN Turk reported on Monday that Turkish soldiers are not allowing armed American soldiers to leave Iskenderun's port area. It also said that each U.S. soldier is carrying a small bag containing a gas mask.

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