The announcement on Monday came despite opposition from the US-backed Iraqi Governing Council and neighbouring countries to the deployment. Iraqi Kurds are also fiercely opposed to Ankara’s presence.

“The necessary response will be given if Iraqi Kurds attack our convoy,” Turkey’s Lieutenant General Ilker Basbug told a news conference on Monday.

Turkish forces are expected to be deployed outside northern Iraq’s mainly Kurdish-controlled territory, but will have to pass through the region to do so.

Ankara’s parliament agreed in principle last week with the United States to command a division of soldiers north or west of Baghdad for at least a year, said Basbug.

But Iraq’s Governing Council fears Turkish troops in the north will raise tensions with Kurds. Since US and British forces ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein lawlessness and instability have swept through the country.

Distrust

Kurds in northern Iraq, where Turkey has maintained forces to stamp out Turkish Kurdish separatists, say they do not want Ankara’s troops to serve close to their enclave.

“No border country should play an active role (in Iraq) because all have an agenda”

King Abd Allah of Jordan

Northern Iraq has enjoyed autonomy since the 1991 Gulf War.

Ankara is suspicious that Kurds will push for more independence and spark trouble in its own mainly Kurdish southeast.

More than 30,000 people died in the decades-long conflict between Ankara and Kurdish rebels.

Fighting subsided dramatically with the 1999 capture and imprisonment of Kurdistan Workers Party leader Abd Allah Ocalan.

It is still early to say how many troops might end up travelling to Iraq amid continuing talks with Washington, said Lieutenant General Metin Yavuzyalcin, head of military operations.

Pakistan and India say they may also join Turkey in contributing to an expanded international force policing Iraq, but have indicated that United Nations approval will be needed first.