CIZRE, TURKEY, JAN. 28 -- Rumbling tank transporters today brought in more Turkish war materiel, beefing up the array of tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery in the hills overlooking this strategic city close to Turkey's borders with Syria and Iraq.
With more armor and bridging equipment just out of sight in the plains on either side of the international highway leading southeast to the closed Iraqi border crossing at Habur, Turkey has taken a high-profile position that worries neighbors Iran and Syria almost as much as it does Iraq.
The message intended by the massive display of these old, refitted American tanks, 105mm artillery pieces, M-113 armored personnel carriers, recoilless rifle-mounted jeeps, self-propelled artillery and other equipment, according to diplomats, is that Turkey is determined to be a major player in the Middle East of the future.
Trucked in from the railhead at Batman 110 miles away, the tanks and much of the equipment came from armored garrisons far to the north and east that, during the Cold War, were considered vital bases in NATO's southern flank opposite the Soviet border.
Turkey has massed 120,000 troops along its 206-mile border with Iraq. Syria's military force facing Iraq to the west is tiny by comparison, and there have been no reports of Iranian muscle-flexing since its army held maneuvers along Iraq's eastern border at mid-month.
By contrast, Turkish President Turgut Ozal, in persuading parliament to vote his government extensive war powers, won approval not only for allowing U.S. warplanes to use Turkish bases, but also for possible Turkish intervention in Iraq after the gulf war ends.
On paper, Iran, Syria and Turkey have stated publicly that, as Iraq's neighbors, they agree no changes should be made in Iraq's territorial integrity, whatever the outcome of the war, and each has sworn -- as has Iraq -- not to be the first to open a second front.
All three governments clearly would like to see Iraqi President Saddam Hussein removed even if such an outcome does not figure in the U.N. resolutions under which the 28-nation coalition is fighting to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait and to restore its legitimate government.
But regional suspicions are so deep-rooted that the possibility of a Turkish military intervention in Iraq was reported by Western diplomats to have figured prominently in high-level talks in Tehran last week between top-ranking Iranian officials and Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam.
Ozal has warned that Turkey might intervene militarily if an independent Kurdish state were created in northern Iraq. But spokesmen for Iraq's Kurds and other members of the Iraqi opposition have sworn they oppose such a carve-up and are thoroughly committed to a democratic, pluralist regime restoring autonomy for the Kurdish minority.
Autonomy across the border in Iraq could, in Turkey's view, create a dangerous precedent for its Kurds, who are thought to make up more than half the total Kurdish population of 30 million spread out in a region that stretches into parts of the Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Another motivation for potential Turkish intervention in Iraq, where the Kurdish rebels maintain bases, observers say, is fear of increased Syrian and Iranian support for the rebellion of the Marxist Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). This rebellion, in Turkish Kurdistan, has taken more than 2,600 lives since 1984.
Influential Iranians and Syrians also say they fear Turkey may resort to force because Ankara might lack other means to influence events in postwar Iraq.
Turkey profited greatly from trade with Iran and Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988, but aside from its control of the waters of the Euphrates, Ankara has little political leverage now.
By contrast, both Damascus and Tehran have, for more than a decade, provided refuge, money and diplomatic backing for sometimes rival Iraqi opposition groups, ranging from dissident members of the ruling Baath Party to Kurdish rebel organizations and fundamentalist Shiite Moslems.
Such long-term political investments could, in the view of analysts, allow Iran and Syria to exert great influence in postwar Iraq. Moreover, if Iran gained the upper hand in influencing future Iraqi policy, diplomats say, the long-repressed Iraqi Shiite Moslem community could play a significant political role not only in Baghdad, but also perhaps in propagating fundamentalism among Turkey's own Shiite minority.
Syria makes little secret of hoping to maintain and even increase its own influence by playing a bridging role between Iran, on one side, and Saudi Arabia and the other Arab oil monarchies.
Yet, regional political analysts say, what really frightens Iran, Syria, Turkey and, above all, the Iranian opposition, is any suggestion of American willingness to allow Saddam to stay in power.
"The United States then could manipulate all the regional powers," one Syrian strategist said recently, and "let them finish each other off."
In that case, diplomats said, Turkey might well be tempted to use its military force stationed near here to intervene to prevent an outcome that it sees as unsatisfactory to its national interests.