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Iraqi Kurdish Leader Assures Turkey - 2002-10-25


A senior official from one of the main Kurdish factions in northern Iraq has given fresh assurances to Turkey that the Iraqi Kurds are not seeking their own independent state. Turkish leaders have threatened to intervene militarily in northern Iraq if the Kurds try to form a break-away state.

Nechirvan Barzani, a senior official from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), told a news conference in Ankara Friday that the Kurds of northern Iraq realize independence is not a realistic goal. Mr. Barzani told Turkish officials during day long talks in the Turkish capital that the Iraqi Kurds want no more than a federal state within a united Iraq.

Mr. Barzani told reporters that greater autonomy for the three and a half million Kurds in northern Iraq would not threaten Turkey's security.

Turkish officials fear that the granting of broader political rights to the Kurds of northern Iraq could trigger similar demands by Turkey's estimated 12 million Kurds, whose most recent rebellion against the Ankara government ended in 1999.

Turkey has some 5,000 troops deployed in the Kurdish enclave of northern Iraq and Turkey's prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, said Friday that the Turkish military presence could be re-inforced if need be. He did not elaborate.

During his news conference, Mr. Barzani acknowledged there are unresolved issues between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds, notably the tough restrictions on Iraqi Kurds traveling to Europe and the United States via Turkey.

The Iraqi Kurds have been governing themselves in northern Iraq since the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when the Allies established a no fly zone to protect the them in the wake of a failed rebellion against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi Kurds are expected to take part in an expected U.S. military operation to topple the Iraqi leader. But the Iraqi Kurds have made clear their support will come only in exchange for guarantees of greater administrative and political freedom from any future central government in Baghdad.

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