Turkey's troops "will help Iraq refugees and won't attack"

Ankara (dpa) - Turkey on Thursday officially ruled out taking part in any military action to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but could well send troops to help refugees flee any fighting there.
"Turkish troops will not enter Iraq to fight," Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis told reporters after a meeting with his Greek counterpart and E.U. rotating president Giorgos Papandreou.

"They will enter Iraq only for humanitarian purposes to stop the possible influx of refugees."

Yakis's brief statement was the first time a government minister has actually said on the record that Turkey could well send troops into northern Iraq.

Turkey shares a border with Iraq and fears that any war could lead to a repeat of the last Gulf War when hundreds of thousands of mainly Kurdish refugees flooded into Turkey.

Turkey is also concerned that a war may lead to the break-up of Iraq and the establishment of an independent Kurdish state fearing that this may lead to renewed calls from its own restive Kurdish minority for independence.

Turkey has in the past threatened to intervene militarily to stop such a development.

Yakis' statement came as the government considered a U.S. request for the use of air bases and the stationing of troops who would be able to cross into northern Iraq to open up a northern front.

The government has so far been dragging its feet on giving a response owing to the fears of refugees, the Kurdish question, the economic fallout that would be felt and the overwhelming opposition to the war among the Turkish public.

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