Kurds Ask Turkish Peacekeepers to Leave

ARBIL (Reuters)–The Iraqi Kurdish parliament has passed a resolution asking Turkish peacekeepers to leave northern Iraq where they have been deployed since 1996 to curb internecine fighting–a Kurdish official said on Tuesday.

Turkish peacekeepers entered the enclave under the supervision of Britain and the United States–which brokered a 1996 cease-fire between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Kurdish sources have said the United States fears Turkey’s military presence in the north could spark tension with Kurds after the war that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

A KDP spokesman who asked that his name not be used said the regional Kurdish parliament on Monday voted unanimously to ask the 800-man Turkish peace monitoring force (PMF) to withdraw.

"The PMF did a good job when there was fighting between the PUK and the KDP. But since 1997 there has been no fighting–so there is no need for them to stay,” the official said.

"We thank them for their services and good will but it is time for them to get out of the country,” he said–adding that Kurdish authorities would not use force to remove them.

Besides the peacekeepers–Turkey also keeps a few thousand troops in northern Iraq along its border to pursue Turkish Kurdish rebels based there.

The rival KDP and PUK have run the mainly Kurdish north since wresting control from Baghdad in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War–but their infighting plagued the region in the mid-1990s.

Relations between the two groups have warmed considerably–and their "peshmerga” fighters backed the United States in its war to topple Saddam this year.

SPHERE OF INFLUENCE

KDP leader Massoud Barzani–backed by Saddam’s armored forces–in August 1996 ousted PUK fighters from Arbil–now the regional capital where their parliament is based. The two sides signed a Washington-brokered cease-fire two months later.

The KDP spokesman’said the United States and Britain had formed the PMF but it had since become a purely Turkish force.

Turkish soldiers in green uniform and blue caps at their white-washed barracks in Arbil declined to comment and directed journalists to authorities in Ankara.

An official at the military General Staff in Ankara said it had not received any request to pull out its peacekeepers.

Asked what Kurdish authorities would do if Turkey refused to leave–the KDP spokesman’said: "For sure no force will be used.”

NATO ally Turkey considers northern Iraq part of its sphere of influence and has nervously watched for signs Iraqi Kurds could use the US-led war to break away from Baghdad and form a new state–potentially sparking separatism among its own Kurds.

Iraqi Kurds deny statehood is their aim–and Washington has said territorial integrity should be preserved in post-war Iraq.

Muslim Turkey refused to allow US forces to stage attacks on Iraq from Turkish soil during the campaign against Baghdad–souring relations with its traditional close ally.

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