Turkey's foreign minister says foreign forces must withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2005, and that Sunday's elections are a first step toward returning control of Iraq to the Iraqi people.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters here Sunday that it was too early to say whether elections in Iraq would be fully representative. He was referring to Turkey's concerns that Iraqi Kurds will likely dominate voting in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk. Turkey has accused the Iraqi Kurds of resettling tens-of-thousands of their people in the province, in a bid to sway the election results in their own favor.
Control of Kirkuk could enable Iraq's estimated four million Kurds to establish an economically viable independent state, one that Turkey fears would fan separatist sentiment among Turkey's own estimated 12 million Kurds. Some analysts warn that Turkey's hawkish military may intervene in Iraq to prevent the Kurds from forming their own homeland.
Mr. Gul added that he saw Sunday's elections as setting a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq. The United States has not announced a calendar for pulling out of Iraq.
Mr. Gul's comments come ahead of a scheduled visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Secretary Rice will be stopping in Ankara on February 5, as part of a tour of European capitals and Israel.
Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqis voted at three polling stations in Turkey, two in Istanbul and one in Ankara. A spokeswoman from the International Organization for Migration, which is conducting the voting program for Iraq expatriates on behalf of Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission, said that turnout was high. No violence was reported at the polling booths, which were heavily guarded by Turkish police.