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Turkish PM Warns Iraqi Kurds - 2002-10-03

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit warned leaders of the two main Kurdish factions in northern Iraq against any moves toward independence.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Ankara with Bulgaria's prime minister, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prime Minister Ecevit said that Turkey would take all necessary measures if the Iraqi Kurds move toward loosening their ties with the central government in Baghdad.

Mr. Ecevit's remarks come ahead of a meeting on Friday of the Kurdish regional parliament in the Kurdish controlled city of Arbil in northern Iraq. The parliament is dominated by members of the two main Kurdish factions that control northern Iraq, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, headed by Jalal Talabani. But the parliament also includes members of the Assyrian Christian minority as well as representatives of an ethnic Turkic group known as the Turcomens.

Friday's session is widely seen as the most tangible evidence yet of the growing cooperation between the rival Kurdish groups. The parliament is expected to debate a draft constitution for a Kurdish state within a unified Iraq. Iraq's Kurds say they have a right to such a state.

Turkey is opposed to such moves, fearing that greater political and ethnic rights for the Iraqi Kurds would re-ignite separatist feelings among its own estimated 12 million Kurds. Turkish leaders have repeatedly warned that Turkey will intervene militarily if need be, in order to block any moves by Iraq's Kurds toward independence.

The Iraqi Kurds have remained in control of northern Iraq ever since the end of the 1991 Gulf War. That is when the allies imposed a no fly zone over the region to protect some 3.5 million Iraqi Kurds from attacks by Iraqi forces.