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U.S. Commander Claims Turkey Not Essential for Iraq Offensive

By Peter Baker

and Thomas E. Ricks

The U.S. ground commander who would lead an invasion of Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, said Monday he was prepared to attack “with or without Turkey,” asserting that a full-fledged northern front is not critical to defeating President Saddam Hussein’s forces.

McKiernan, who leads all U.S. and British ground forces assembled here awaiting orders to move north, said he remained hopeful Turkey would relent and accept troops on its soil for a northern front. But he said the outcome of an offensive against Hussein did not hang in the balance.

“From an operational standpoint, with or without Turkey, if the president makes a decision, the military will be ready,” McKiernan said in an interview at his headquarters here. “If a decision is made to conduct combat operations, when you put together all the pieces of air, ground, maritime, special operating forces, I will tell you it will be more than a one-direction effort and it will be an effort that comes at the time and location of our choosing.”

The Pentagon had hoped to send as many as 62,000 troops to Turkey, including the Army’s 4th Infantry Division. But the Turkish parliament refused permission in a vote Saturday, despite promises of billions of dollars in grants and loans in return.

Officials in Turkey’s ruling party said Monday the government might seek a second vote but called for a bigger aid package to persuade reluctant members of parliament.

Signaling plans to insert combat forces directly into northern Iraq in case Turkey’s parliament holds to its refusal, the Pentagon asked the Turkish government about flying troops through Turkish airspace, sidestepping the controversy about stationing troops on Turkish soil.

“That is going to be discussed in the hours and days ahead,” Osman Faruk Logoglu, the Turkish ambassador to the United States, said in an interview with The Washington Post.