AP World - General News
Dutch prepare to ship Patriot missiles to Turkey ahead of Iraqi war protest
Fri Feb 14,12:59 PM ET
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - The Dutch Air Force on Friday began loading Patriot defense missile systems onto freighter ships destined for Turkey in case of a U.S.-led war against Iraq, a day before planned anti-war demonstrations in the Netherlands, military officials said.
The Dutch government agreed to provide Ankara with three ground-to-air missile batteries after receiving a bilateral request for assistance. Turkey fears it could be targeted by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein with scud missiles.
NATO has been divided over the issue of starting planning to protect Turkey, the only alliance member which borders Iraq.
France, Germany and Belgium have blocked U.S. proposals for the 19-member alliance to plan for the deployment of early warning planes, missile defenses and anti biochemical units to Turkey, saying starting military preparations would undermine efforts at the United Nations to avoid a war.
The four freight ships will take 10-15 days to reach Turkey, where the systems will be transported by road to their final destinations, Defense Ministry officials said.
The Patriot systems, used to intercept offensive missiles in midair, will be stationed in Diyarbakir and Batman in southeastern Turkey and manned by 370 Dutch military personnel. Germany has provided several dozen rockets.
Dutch Patriots protected the Turkish border in 1991 during the Gulf War (news - web sites). The government said this week it feels obliged to support a fellow NATO member which it said "obviously feels threatened."
The Netherlands has also said it will allow Washington to use Dutch air space, bases and ports if the United States opts for the use of force to disarm Iraq. But it has agreed to play only a non-combat role.
On Saturday, thousands of people are expected to hold an anti-war demonstration in the Dutch capital, part of coordinated protests in several countries. Recent polls indicate that a majority of the Dutch oppose attacks on Iraq, particularly without U.N. approval, and consider U.S. President George W. Bush to be a greater immediate threat to peace than the Iraqi president.