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US, Turkey, Iraqi Kurds Discuss Northern Iraq - 2003-02-07

Delicate talks are under way on the possibility of creating a northern front against Iraq. The United States wants to station troops in Turkey to prepare to move into Iraq, and Turkey wants its own forces to do the same. But Iraqi Kurdish leaders who now control that area are opposed.

After two days of talks with Turkish officials, Hoshyar Zebari, a senior official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, told VOA that Iraqi Kurdish leaders are not in favor of Turkish plans to deploy thousands of troops in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

Mr. Zebari says the talks will continue at a "technical level", but he declined to elaborate.

Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul confirmed earlier this week that Turkey plans to dispatch thousands of its troops to northern Iraq if there is a war. He said the deployment is intended to stem the potential flow of millions of Kurdish refugees. Additionally, Mr. Gul said, Turkish forces would prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state in Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds say they have no claims to independence, and they do not need foreign troop to assist in any humanitarian crisis.

Mr. Zebari said the intervention of Turkish troops could prompt neighboring Iran to send its own troops into the region, adding to the volatility of the situation.

Turkey is expected to play a key role on the side of the United States in a war against Iraq, but plans are not yet firm, and there is much public opposition.

On Thursday, the Turkish Parliament agreed to allow American military technicians to upgrade Turkish facilities that could be used in a war. Analysts say the vote signals that the Parliament will also agree to the deployment of thousands of U.S. combat troops in Turkey to prepare to invade Iraq. That vote is expected in about 10 days.

Turkish and U.S. officials say Turkey's government was convinced to go along with the plan when the Bush administration agreed Turkey would send troops into northern Iraq behind any U.S.-led invasion force.

A war against Iraq remains unpopular among an overwhelming majority of Turks. That is why Thursday's parliamentary session was closed to the public and balloting was secret. Front page headlines in the mainstream Turkish press were stinging in their criticism of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party Friday. The front page of the respected liberal daily Radikal said the parliament ran away from the people.