Turkey, US continue talks on Iraq troop pullout
Turkey and the US have increased the frequency of talks over the use of Turkish soil for the transfer of American troops, arms and logistics equipment out of Iraq, Foreign Ministry sources said yesterday. "There are no new requests from Washington concerning the withdrawal process, and the implementation is going on as before," said one source. Some US military equipment has already been transferred through Turkey since last year under an agreement that allows Incirlik Airbase to be used by US forces as a logistics hub. There are reportedly plans to establish an aerial bridge between southeast Turkey and the base to transfer troops and equipment coming from Iraq. Since there are no plans to transfer heavy equipment through Incirlik, no new agreement is needed to carry out those plans, sources said. It is not yet clear whether the Americans will only use Turkish airspace and Incirlik or if they will also seek to transport heavy equipment overland during the withdrawal process. After taking office last year, US President Barack Obama announced that the US would end its combat mission in Iraq this month, but retain a transitional force of up to 50,000 US troops to train and advise Iraqi security forces. "Most of the troops and equipment are being transported out of Iraq through Kuwait, although Jordan and Turkey are also permitting transit," said the source. The pullout, however, has been controversial, with Gen. Babaker Shawkat Zebari, the commander of Iraq's military, warning again last week that his army may not be ready to defend the nation until 2020. According to the US State Department's Office of the Inspector General, the US Consulate in Adana "anticipates an increased role in the event of a US military withdrawal from Iraq through Turkish territory," a new report on the US mission in Turkey said. Incirlik is located about 12 kilometers east of the center of Adana. Turkey's number two diplomat, Foreign Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, is meanwhile set to visit Washington next week for routine political consultations on such issues as Turkey-Israeli ties, the Middle East peace process, Iran's nuclear program, developments in the Caucasus, and the Iraq withdrawal.