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Turkey's Military Sees 'Bloody' Future if Iraq Divides Along Ethnic, Religious Lines - 2004-01-16

The Turkish military has warned Friday that a federal Iraqi government divided along ethnic and religious lines would create a "difficult" and "bloody" future for Turkey's southern neighbor. In a rare news conference, a top Turkish general also accused the United States of not taking effective action against Kurdish separatist rebels based in northern Iraq.

Speaking to reporters in Ankara, General Ilker Basbug, the second in command of the Turkish General Staff, said the Turkish military believed that a federal structure in Iraq and especially one based along ethnic lines would unleash chaos in the region.

General Basbug was referring to stepped up efforts by the Kurds of northern Iraq to establish their own semi-autonomous state in Iraq which would preserve its own army and gain control over the oil rich province of Kirkuk, that is populated by Kurds, Arabs and Turcomens.

Turkey fears that the establishment of an independent Kurdish entity in Iraq could refuel separatist sentiments among its own 14 million or so ethnic Kurds and lead to the resumption of an armed campaign by rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, better known as the PKK.

The rebel group fought a 15 year long insurgency in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast, which it called off five years ago following the capture of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The group, which is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations then withdrew to Kurdish controlled northern Iraq.

General Basbug said the United States had failed to deliver on its pledges so far to disarm and evict the PKK from its mountain bases in the Kurdish enclave. He added, that he remained hopeful, nonetheless, that U.S. forces would take action against the estimated 5,000 PKK fighters holed up in mountain camps along Iraq's border with Iran.

Analysts say the general's remarks highlight continuing differences between Turkey and the United States over Iraq. Relations between the two NATO allies have been strained ever since the Turkish parliament refused to allow thousands of U.S. troops to use Turkish soil to attack Iraqi forces from the north during their campaign to topple the former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.

Many Turks believe that the United States now favors the Iraqi Kurds over the Turks and is tacitly backing the Kurds' attempts to form their own state. U.S. officials dismiss such claims, saying they are firmly committed to the unity of Iraq.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to voice Turkish concerns over Iraq when he meets with President Bush at the end of January during his first official trip to Washington.