WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday left open the possibility that Turkey's offer to deploy thousands of troops to Iraq -- a move seen just weeks ago as a critical breakthrough for US diplomacy -- could be dropped because of Iraqi opposition.
Turkish officials have indicated in recent days that the proposed deployment, approved by the Turkish Parliament on Oct. 7, could unravel if opposition remains strong.
Asked whether the Bush administration's interest was waning, Rumsfeld suggested that the Turks had set conditions that might not be met.
"What the Turkish government did -- at least my understanding of it -- was they said that under certain circumstances they would be willing to offer forces, subject to finding a method" that satisfied all parties, including their own government and the Iraqi Governing Council, he said.
"That process is under way," Rumsfeld added. "Whether it will ultimately find a method of satisfying everybody, I don't know. I hope so because obviously we would like additional forces to be available."
Another senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States still wants Turkish troops in Iraq but is encountering resistance from the Iraqis.
That resistance is based in part on the views of Iraq's Kurds, who make up about a third of the country's 25 million people. They are sensitive to the legacy of nearly 400 years of Ottoman rule in Iraq.
A 15-year insurgency by Kurdish rebels in Turkey ended in 1999, but the rebels now have bases in northern Iraq and the potential to resume fighting.
The Turkish government fears that Kurds living in an autonomous area of northern Iraq could declare independence, rekindling the conflict in Turkey.