A senior Turkish military officer has launched a blistering attack on his country's decision not to send troops into US-occupied Iraq.
Chief of Staff Hilmi Ozkok says that Ankara’s decision not to deploy Turkish soldiers south of the border will leave it without a say in Iraq’s political development.
He also decalred that the reversal of an earlier decision to contribute additional troops to US-led occupation forces was short-sighted.
NATO ally, Turkey officially ended its offer to bolster occupation troop numbers on Friday after opposition from Iraqi officials in the US-backed Governing Council.
Ozkok also has voiced his concerns about what he sees as bias US administrators have shown towards their close allies the Kurds who have run northern Iraq since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.
Accusation of bias
"The United States favours the group in the north a little too much. We don't know what shape Iraq will take, because we don't know the internal situation," Ozkok said during an interview published on Sunday in the Radikal newspaper.
"They are doing some things. We don't have the right to a say in the matter because we are not there."
The Turkish military play an influential role in Turkish domestic and foreign policy.
It has long feared being left out of the negotiating process by which the future shape of Iraq would be determined.
Fearing a Kurdistan
Turkey worries US-backed Iraqi Kurds will now try to consolidate their autonomy into greater independence, sparking unrest among Turkey's own Kurds in the southeast, scene of a separatist conflict that erupted in 1984.
Turkey has the largest population of ethnic Kurds, followed by Iraq, Iran and Syria.
A military deployment would be
unpopular in Turkey and in Iraq
"They [Iraqi Kurds] have themselves said in the end the goal is to establish an independent Kurdish state in the region ... Such a development would drag in Iran and Syria, along with Turkey, and it's unknown where this would end," Ozkok said.
Kurds have called on Turkey to withdraw the 1500 troops it keeps in the north to pursue Kurdish separatists, but Ozkok said it was unlikely Turkey would pull out amid such uncertainty.
"Our forces there show our determination, they show how much that region affects us. There has been no development to change this, therefore our forces will remain there," he concluded.
Ankara has said it reserves the right to intervene in northern Iraq if it sees any Kurdish moves towards statehood in a region it considers within its sphere of influence.
Kurds led the opposition to the Turkish troop deployment, which was seen as an important step towards repairing relations with the United States.
Last March, Turkey refused to allow tens of thousands of US soldiers to invade Iraq from its territory.