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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Turkey's parliament agreed Thursday to allow the U.S. military to use Turkish airspace for a war in Iraq, the Anatolia news agency reported. The decision took on added urgency now that U.S. bombers are striking Iraq.
The government-backed proposal would allow American warplanes based in Europe or the United States to cross Turkey to strike Iraq. The United States also could use Turkish airspace to transport troops into northern Iraq or to bring supplies to the region.
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Parliament began debating a proposal Thursday to grant the U.S. military permission to use Turkish airspace in the war against Iraq, a delayed measure that falls short of Washington's initial request to station 62,000 ground troops in Turkey.
A vote on the proposal, which is backed by leading Turkish officials, was expected later Thursday afternoon. It would allow U.S. warplanes based in Europe or the United States to cross Turkey to strike Iraq. The United States could also use Turkish airspace to transport troops into northern Iraq.
The proposal would not, however, allow U.S. planes to use Turkish air bases or refuel in Turkey. The United States would not be able to use Incirlik air base, a sprawling facility that houses 50 U.S. fighters used to patrol a no-fly zone over Iraq.
The United States for months has been pressing Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member, to allow in soldiers to open a northern front against Iraq. But as the date for an Iraq war drew closer, Washington requested the urgent use of Turkish airspace for overflights.
There is strong opposition in Turkey to an Iraq war, and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer spoke out against the U.S. strikes Thursday.
"I don't find the United States' unilateral behavior right before the U.N. process is completed," Sezer said.
Sezer, whose position is largely ceremonial, has said any military action should have U.N. approval. But he would not have the power to veto the airspace resolution.
The government of new Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been dragging its feet on asking parliament to approve the troop-basing resolution. A first agreement that would have allowed in U.S. troops failed by just four votes and the party is concerned about a second vote. Still, officials have not ruled out a motion that would allow in U.S. troops at a later date.
"At the moment what they want is the airspace," said Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, who returned from talks in Washington. "We will see what other requests they may have later."
The United States had offered Turkey a package of $15 billion in loans and grants if it let in the U.S. troops. Economy Minister Ali Babacan said the original U.S. aid package was no longer valid, but he left open the possibility of a new financial deal.
The resolution also would allow Turkish troops to enter Iraq if there is a war. The government has said Washington had agreed in principle to allow Turkish troops in northern Iraq to prevent a possible refugee flow or to stop Turkish Kurdish rebels who have bases in northern Iraq from crossing into Turkey.
U.S. officials have said Washington opposes a unilateral Turkish incursion in northern Iraq. White House special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held two days of talks this week with Turkish and Iraqi opposition officials to try to convince Turks to stay out of northern Iraq.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)