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Turkey's Erdogan Hopeful about Vote in Neighboring Iraq

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday spoke to reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, saying Turkey is eager to begin negotiations for membership in the European Union. Mr. Erdogan had hopeful words about Sunday's elections in neighboring Iraq.

Mr. Erdogan said the elections will not be fully democratic because participation in the campaign has been limited. But he left no doubt that he believes the election is a positive step, one that Turkey fully supports.

"Seen from this perspective, it may not be a fully democratic election," he said. "But this is a transition to democracy. And it is a major step that the ballot box has been brought to the electorate."

Turkey's primary concern is that Iraq hold together as a single state. The Kurds of northern Iraq are numerous in Turkey and Ankara has been determined to prevent the emergence of an independent Kurdistan. Mr. Erdogan said the main task of the transitional Iraqi government that will emerge from Sunday's election is the writing of a constitution. Mr. Erdogan has very specific views about what should be contained in that charter.

"[And] the constitution should assure and guarantee the territorial integrity of Iraq," he said. "And the constitution should set forth that the natural riches of Iraq belong to all the Iraqi people."

Iraq's Kurds have been eager to gain control of Kirkuk, at the heart of one of the country's main oil producing regions, a development analysts say would bolster a Kurdish bid for independence.

Mr. Erdogan said a new Iraqi constitution should guarantee that one ethnic group can not be dominant over another.