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Turkish troops cross Iraqi border

Turkey opens air corridors to U.S. planes

U.S. planes were forced to fly over Jordan or Saudi Arabia.
U.S. planes were forced to fly over Jordan or Saudi Arabia.

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ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- More than 1,000 Turkish troops were reported to have crossed the border into northern Iraq Friday. A Turkish military press attache would neither confirm nor deny the report, but said he would issue a press release later.

The troops were spotted shortly after Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said his country agreed to open two air corridors for U.S. planes to use for air attacks in Iraq.

In Washington, a senior State Department official told CNN that U.S. officials were not notified of any troop movements and considered the issue to be "still under discussion."

The United States does not want Turkish troops moving into Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq for fear there will be clashes between Turkish and Kurdish troops.

The official said the question of "where, how many and when they cross" was still under negotiation and "it is not reconciled."

Another official said the administration had no evidence of the Turkish troop movement. "It's a confused report," the official said.

A previous agreement allowing use of the airspace was held up by Turkey because of the dispute with the United States about sending Turkish troops into northern Iraq.

Talks with the United States to resolve the movement of Turkish troops continued, and the issue was likely to be resolved soon, Gonul said late Friday. At that time, he said no Turkish troops had moved into Iraq.

Just a half hour after the agreement to open the air corridors kicked in, however, troops were reported crossing into northern Iraq from Cukurca and more were likely to follow. Another possible entry point is Silopi, Turkey.

U.S. warplanes turn back from Turkey

The Turks contend they need troops in northern Iraq to "manage the humanitarian situation" -- partly by keeping Kurdish refugees from crossing over into Turkey.

Some 3,000 Turkish troops are already in region, with more expected to come. According to Turkish officials, however, they are not combat troops and are there to form a buffer. They will not fire a shot, officials said.

At a Pentagon news briefing Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged the Turks "have had some forces in northern Iraq for some time, not associated with what's going on right now. But in terms of any large numbers, they are not."

Gonul said under a memorandum of understanding, the United States had been granted two air corridors to the Iraqi border -- one running from Istanbul and another along the southern edge of Turkey.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to get confirmation the air corridors were open, he said. Later, the U.S. State Department announced the agreement would go into effect at midnight Friday, Turkish time.

That came after U.S. warplanes took off from aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea, planning to fly over Turkey, a senior Pentagon official said.

At the last minute before they entered the corridor, Turkish officials notified the United States they were not sure that final approval had been granted.

The planes turned back.

Later, the planes headed south to the Sinai Peninsula, curved south of Israel and flew over either Jordan or Saudi Arabia enter Iraq, the senior Pentagon official said.

Balancing Turkish and Kurdish concerns

As negotiations over the troop movement continued, Gul later told reporters there were two main reasons Turkey wants to have troops in northern Iraq: First, to protect Turkey from potential terrorists and second, to stop an influx of refugees.

He made no mention of what has been considered another Turkish concern: that if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is toppled, Kurds in northern Iraq would gain control of Iraqi oil fields and use them as leverage to create an independent Kurdish territory that might stretch into Kurdish areas of southeastern Turkey.

Kurds, on the other hand, worry about the presence of Turkish troops in their region of Iraq.

The United States has been trying to strike a balance between the two sides.

Concerns remain despite an agreement Wednesday in which the leaders of Iraqi minority groups -- the Kurds and the Turkmen -- promised to maintain the status quo of the region during and after the war in Iraq.

CNN correspondents Kemal Yurteri, Jane Arraf, Andrea Koppel and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.


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