Richard Holbrooke, who is tipped to become the next US secretary of state if the Democrats win the 2004 election, has urged the Turkish government to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Holbrooke is the latest American politician to slam his government's policy in Iraq as the list of American casualties continues to increase on an almost daily basis.

Holbrooke criticised ''inept'' US diplomacy, saying that policy failure was to blame for the current unease over Turkey's offer to deploy more than 10,000 troops to Iraq.

Speech

In a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Holbrooke criticised US attempts to base troops in Turkey in order to launch a land invasion of Iraq.

He described US policy before the war as being ''less than brilliant".

He also added that US officials were wrong to react with fury when Turkey's parliament vetoed American attempts to use the country as a launchpad for attacking Iraq.

Iraq deployment

Holbrooke was even more scathing about the administration's
handling of its request that Turkey, the only Muslim nation in
NATO, send troops to Iraq to relieve overburdened US forces.

Turkey's parliament, under pressure not to again oppose
Washington on a critical issue, voted for the deployment on 7 October.

Since then, members of the new US-appointed Iraqi
Governing Council have spoken out against Turkey's
participation in post-war Iraq, leaving the issue in limbo.

"It's beyond my imagination that American diplomats could
have asked the Turks to cast such a vote and make troops
available without knowing in advance for absolute certainty
that Iraq would accept them," Holbrooke said.

Holbrooke said the reaction had left Ankara ''annoyed and embarrassed''.

European Union

Holbrooke highlighted the important role that Turkey could play in future American foreign policy.

''Turkey, sitting between Iraq and Europe, is now, even more than before, the critical state in both the war on terrorism and the search for a more democratic and more stable Muslim world,'' he said.

Holbrooke called on the European Union (EU) to set a clear date for the establishment of talks that could see Turkey becoming part of the EU.

He warned that if Ankara was excluded, ''the world will conclude that Turkey is being excluded from Europe for ethnic and religious reasons,'' he added.