Turkmens Condemn US Urge Turkey to Send troops to Iraq

ANKARA (Reuters)–A senior member of Iraq’s Turkmen ethnic minority accused the United States on Monday of failing to protect his community and urged Turkey to send troops to help restore order in the war-devastated country.

Twelve people were killed over the weekend in clashes between Kurds and Turkish-speaking Turkmens in and around the northern Iraqi oil hub of Kirkuk. The two groups have been vying for power in the city since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

"The United States pledged to bring peace and democracy to Iraq…(But) we see that the Turkmens have been ignored and that peace has not been established in Iraq,” Ahmet Muratli–Ankara representative of the Iraqi Turkmen Front–told reporters.

The Turkmens–whose presence in Iraq dates back to Ottoman Turkish rule–complain of persecution by Kurds returning to Kirkuk after being expelled under Saddam.

Muratli–speaking after talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul–said Turkey had a vital role to play in Iraq.

"We regard the dispatch of Turkish troops to Iraq as appropriate. This is the only way peace and order can be ensured in Iraq,” he said.

Ankara–watched by anxious financial markets–is currently weighing up a US request to contribute troops to Iraq.

Turkish public opinion opposes such involvement–but the government is anxious to repair ties with Washington–damaged by Turkey’s refusal in March to allow US troops to attack Iraq from its territory.

If Turkey sends troops–they are expected to be deployed in an area near Baghdad rather than in northern Iraq–where the United States fears they might clash with the Kurds.

Turkey–which wants to suppress Kurdish separatism within its own borders–is worried about the growing influence of Iraq’s Kurds.

Underscoring such concerns–nationalist Turks clashed with police on Sunday while protesting over the Kirkuk incident outside the Ankara offices of a northern Iraqi Kurdish party. Twenty three Turkish police were injured in those clashes.

On Monday–Foreign Minister Gul said Ankara was in close contact with the United States over the situation in Kirkuk.

"We cannot accept the treatment meted out to the Turkmens in the last few days,” Gul said.

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