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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Strike on Iraq: Conflicting Reports About Turkish Troops in Northern Iraq

Aired March 22, 2003 - 05:22   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Now we want to talk about Turkey, because we have heard that 1,000 Turkish troops are about to go into northern Kuwait -- or I mean, northern Iraq, I'm sorry -- 1,000 Turkish troops about to go in are already in northern Iraq. And that complicates things for the U.S. military.
Let's go live to Silpoli, Turkey, and Fredricka Whitfield.

Fredricka -- what have you heard about Turkish troops going into Iraq?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, hi there, Carol.

Well, indeed some conflicting reports on whether those 1,500 Turkish commandos have indeed crossed the border and into northern Iraq. Conflicting reports, because some of the officials here at the border, which is about six or miles from where I'm standing here in Silpoli, Turkey, they are saying that those troops have not been able to cross the border. However, some of those same sources are saying that now some Turkish tanks could be soon making its way across the border.

Now, of course, you know this has been a real bone of contention between the Turkish authorities and the American authorities. They Americans saying that this is certainly going to conflict with their planned operations in northern Iraq, particularly Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that this plan, the Turk's plan to move their troops in would be an unhelpful plan. And that is because Rumsfeld was warning that U.S. Special Forces have been working closely with Kurdish troops in this Kurdish territory of northern Iraq, and perhaps there may be potential conflicts between the Turkish troops and the Kurdish, or consequently between Turkish troops and American troops.

And then beyond that, the Defense Department is warning that there could potentially be conflicts between the Turkish troops and Saddam forces, who may be trying to take over any rich oil fields in the northern territory.

Now, all of that is taking place while we know just hours ago overnight the Turkish government did finally allow an open air space for U.S. military overflights. Now, it was Thursday night when the Turkish parliament agreed and gave the green light, so to speak, to the U.S. military to carry out those operations, but here it took over 24 hours in order to finally open up that air space.

Now, when and if the U.S. flights do take advantage of that open air space, this is how it would work. From the northern corridor bombers coming from possibly Bulgaria or even Hungary would be traveling south over Turkish air space between Istanbul and Tagzol (ph). They would be finding their way south into the northern Iraqi territory.

Then from the southern corridor, fighter jets coming from the USS Truman and Roosevelt would head briefly north, avoiding Syrian air space, then moving around the southern Turkish border before flying overhead, possibly right over here in Silpoli, Turkey and into northern Iraq.

Now, there have been no reports of that U.S. military jet or bomber activity as of yet, and I think we would hear it when and if it is to occur. But so far, those operations have not taken place -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Fredricka, going back to the Turkish troops possibly in northern Iraq, take us through the history of that. We know the Turks and the Kurds don't get along, and we know that the Turkish government doesn't want any Kurdish refugees in Turkey. Why?

WHITFIELD: Right. That's right. That, in fact, one of the things that the Turks want to avoid. They want to avoid any kind of Kurdish refugee overflow, like they saw during the Gulf War when 500,000 Kurds crossed the border into Turkish land.

Now, the Turks want to avoid that. In addition to that, they want to avert the Kurdish-controlled northern territory from gaining independence, to becoming an independent state. Already there is a Kurdish economy here, but the Turks are afraid that once the Kurds in northern Iraq were to gain independence, then perhaps the Kurds in the Turkish territory may make similar demands, reviving a 15-year conflict between the Turkish Kurds.

It's very confusing, but it all boils down to autonomy and independence, and thatís something that the Turkish government wants very much to avoid, and that is how the Turkish government is justifying its troops heading into northern Iraq -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And, of course, Fredricka, right now Washington isn't confirming that Turkish troops are in northern Iraq, but you've got to believe Washington is on the phone with Turkish officials right now trying to straighten out that situation.

WHITFIELD: I'm sorry, you're going to have to repeat the question, because I had a little interference in the phone line that we're using in order to communicate with you. Could you say that one more time?

COSTELLO: I sure can, Fredricka. I said you have to believe that Washington is on the phone trying to deal with this problem with Turkish officials right now.

WHITFIELD: Oh, you better believe it. Those talks are ongoing, because Washington is still very upset with the fact that the Turkish government has persisted and maintained its position in order to use its troops. And as I explained, Washington sees some real potential detriment for those troops to be moving in, but the Turks feel that they are justifiably keeping an eye on a very national interest, is the way they would like to put it, even though they are now operating unilaterally.

And Washington is making that very clear and reminding this only Muslim NATO ally that their movement of their troops is working unilaterally, and they are not a part of the coalition of the willing. And so the U.S. wouldn't be able to protect them in the case of any potential conflict involving all of these various troops that may be clashing in the northern territory of northern Iraq.

COSTELLO: Fredricka Whitfield reporting live from Silpoli, Turkey this morning.

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