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Iraqi Kurds, Turkish Leaders Disagree Over Deployments - 2003-03-20

Fears that war in Iraq could lead to fighting between Kurds in the north of the country and soldiers from neighboring Turkey intensified after leaders from the two sides clashed over a possible Turkish troop deployment in Iraq. has more on the story from in eastern Turkey.

The dispute between Iraqi Kurd leaders and Turkish authorities followed a comment by Turkey's deputy prime minister, Mehmet Ali Sahin. Mr. Sahin said his government is determined to send troops into northern Iraq, despite calls from the United States not to do so.

The Turkish official said the deployment would be made for humanitarian reasons, adding that soldiers would help deal with any Iraqi refugees fleeing northward, away from the conflict and toward the border with Turkey.

In the 1991 Gulf War, an estimated 500,000 refugees flooded across the same frontier, and Turkey is determined that a similar influx does not occur again.

But Iraqi Kurdish leaders - who were in eastern Turkey for talks with Turkish officials and with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy to the Iraq opposition - immediately claimed that they had not agreed to any Turkish troop movements into the largely autonomous region of northern Iraq that they control.

Jalal Talabani, who heads one of the two Kurdish factions in the region, insisted that Turkish troops were not crossing the border, telling reporters that he had not been informed of any deal to allow their passage.

Iraqi Kurds are extremely suspicious of Turkish motives for sending soldiers into Northern Iraq.

Turkey is eager to prevent the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq because it fears it could rouse separatist feelings in its own large Kurdish population. But the Iraqi Kurds insist that Turkey has other reasons for entering northern Iraq. They say Turkey is intent on seizing control of the region by military force.