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Tensions High Between Turkey, Iraqi Kurds


Last week Turkey's top general called for military action against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. But Iraqi Kurdish officials say a political solution, not a military one, is what is needed to settle this decades-old issue. From the capital of northern Iraq's Kurdistan Region, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Turkey accuses Iraqi Kurds of protecting and supporting the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK, a charge Iraqi Kurdish officials deny.

Turkish General Yasar Buyukanit's call last week for an incursion into northern Iraq followed a public volley of comments from Iraqi Kurdish leaders and Ankara, in which each side threatened interference in the other's domestic affairs.

Ankara has launched offensives against the PKK in the southeastern part of Turkey, where more than 14 million Kurds live. In the past few weeks more than 30 rebels and a dozen Turkish soldiers have been killed in clashes.

Retired Turkish General Edip Baser says it is Turkey's right to go after the PKK.

"It is hard to understand why we should not use one of our international rights, as this terrorist organization is still active and coming into my country, and acting in my country, killing people and then going back to northern Iraq," he said. "Why should I not go after them?"

Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani tells VOA that he does not believe Turkish military intervention in northern Iraq will resolve the situation.

He says past military action against the rebels did not bring a decisive result. He adds that he believes Turkey knows what is in its best interest and such an intervention is not.

Mr. Barzani says a political solution rests in Turkey's hands. He advocates Ankara consider a general amnesty as a way for these groups to lay down their arms, return to Turkey, and have an opportunity to participate in the political process there.

In return, he says, relations between Ankara and Iraqi Kurds will be stronger - something he says Iraqi Kurds want.

Mr. Barzani says Turkish companies hold more than $1 billion in contracts in his region and that in the future they would receive priority, including in the lucrative oil sector.

The prime minister also urged the United States to increase its efforts in helping resolve the PKK issue.

He says, "We are allies to the United States and so is Turkey. We believe the United States can play a role in bringing both of its allies closer together."

The United States considers the PKK a terrorist organization and has appointed Retired Air Force General Joseph Ralston as a special envoy to help the parties find a solution.

Adding to the tension is the uncertain future of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

Kirkuk is home to Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and ethnic Turkmen. A referendum later this year is expected to put the city under Kurdish regional government control.

The Turks fear such an outcome would put the city's huge oil revenues in Kurdish hands and encourage Kurdish separatists in Turkey to rise up against the government.

Prime Minister Barzani says Turkey tends to forget that Kirkuk is an Iraqi city with a Kurdish identity, and that there already exists a roadmap within the Iraqi constitution for determining the city's future. He says escalating tensions between the neighbors over it is unnecessary.

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