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Turkey slams U.S. failure to halt Kurds' designs on Kirkuk
by Daily Star, Lebanon
Tuesday Feb 1st, 2005 12:28 PM
Washington insists it wants to preserve Iraq's Unity. Ankara warns it will take action if attempts to take control plunge city into ethnic turmoil
Turkey criticized the United States for failing to halt Kurdish efforts to dominate the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, and warned it could take action if attempts to take control plunges the city into ethnic turmoil.

"Some people are looking the other way while mass migration (of Kurds to Kirkuk) takes place," the Wall Street Journal quoted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan as saying in an interview given on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.

"This is going to create major difficulties in the future."

Turkey believes Iraqi Kurds, who voted in large numbers in Sunday's election, are trying to take control of Kirkuk at the expense of local Arabs and Turkish-speaking Turkmens.

Ankara fears this could herald a concerted drive to build an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq which might in turn reignite separatism among the Kurds of southeastern Turkey.

Erdogan said U.S. President George W. Bush had assured him he would look into the matter but had done nothing so far.

Speaking in Ankara on Monday, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, an architect of the Iraq war, tried to reassure Turkey, making clear Washington still opposed Kurdish separatism.

"The issue of Kirkuk is an important one. ... It is going to be worked on by the Iraqis from the point of view that this is not a matter for one group or another but for the Iraqi people in general. We support that view," Feith said after talks with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

Feith underlined that Washington "strongly believes that it is crucial that the territorial integrity of Iraq be preserved ... and that problems like Kirkuk be solved in a way that reinforces the unity and territorial integrity of the country."

Many Arabs and Turkmens in Kirkuk appeared to boycott Sunday's Iraqi elections in protest at what they saw as voting rules favoring the Kurds.

Erdogan, who gave his interview before the Iraqi election, said Turkey was taking its own precautions over Kirkuk but declined to give details.

Gul said Turkey could not stand passively by if Kurds took control of Kirkuk, though he stopped short of saying Ankara would send troops into Iraq.

"Our borders are clear. We have no territorial designs," he told the English-language newspaper Turkish Daily News.

"(But) sometimes you may not wish to embark on a road but developments force you to take certain actions ... In democratic countries, governments don't have the luxury of ignoring public sentiment," said Gul.

But Gul also hailed the Iraqi vote, saying it "reconfirmed the will of the Iraqi people to maintain the country's course in a united and integral way towards peace and security."

Turkish newspapers Monday also debated the consequences of the strong Kurdish turnout in northern Iraq.

Many front-page reports quoted Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, who heads one of two Kurdish factions controlling the north, as saying that Iraqi Kurds would one day have their own independent state.

"The elections end, their mask comes off," said the daily Aksam, referring to the Kurds, while the Vatan daily headlined "Barzani challenges Turkey." The daily Milliyet meanwhile saw the Sunni boycott of the elections as a potential pitfall for Turkey, stressing that Iraq's Parliament, which will draw up the country's constitution, will be dominated by Shiites and Kurds.

Vatan said the best route for Ankara would be to support the Kurds in a future role in the administration of Iraq to offset the possible danger of their breaking free from central rule.

Erdogan also took the U.S. to task for failing to crack down on an estimated 5,000 Turkish Kurdish guerrillas holed up in the mountains of northern Iraq.

"Their (American) excuse is that they are overwhelmed (in Iraq) but they accept that our demands are just demands and have promised they will deal with it. We have not yet seen action," said Erdogan.

More than 30,000 people died during a 20-year armed struggle by rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party to carve out a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. - Agencies