The Bush administration says it has assured Turkey that it will not allow Kurdish forces to control the oil-rich region around the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. This week's move by Kurdish militiamen into the Kirkuk area has revived Turkish concerns about a possible Kurdish independence bid.
The assurances were conveyed by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who told Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul by telephone Thursday that U.S.-led coalition forces will control the Kirkuk area and that Turkey can have liaison officers with U.S. units to verify the facts on the ground.
The televised scenes of Kurdish militiamen sweeping into the regional capital renewed concerns in Ankara about a possible effort by Kurds to set up an independent state in northern Iraq that might have territorial ambitions against mainly-Kurdish areas of Turkey.
Turkey has threatened to intervene in Iraq to prevent such a development. And the issue dominated Mr. Powell's visit to Turkey last week, which produced an agreement that would allow Turkey to send observers to assure that coalition forces will control Kirkuk and the other regional center, Mosul.
At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the agreement for U.S.-Turkish consultations and liaison arrangements was invoked, and is "working successfully," and that Foreign Minister Gul was assured by the Secretary of State that the coalition "is in command" in northern Iraq.
"It's the firm U.S. position that no group should control Iraq's cities and oil fields," the spokesman said. "And U.S. forces are on the ground in Kirkuk, and will be, as appropriate, in Mosul, and are taking full command in those towns. So, what we agreed upon with the Turks last week was that, were there to be developments that cause concern, we would immediately talk and figure out how to handle them, so that no undue concern had to arise in Turkey. And we think we're doing that successfully in this situation."
Spokesman Boucher said the Kurdish factions with which the U.S.-led coalition is working support the territorial integrity of Iraq and, by extension, do not seek independence.
He also said there has been no change in the United States' view that the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, held responsible for scores of anti-Turkish attacks over the years, is a terrorist group with which it will have no dealings.
Officials here gave no details of the envisaged Turkish observer presence in northern Iraq other than to say that it will involve a small number of the Turkish officers attached to U.S. military units.