Bush Assures Turkey’s Erdogan on Kurds in Iraq

WASHINGTON (Reuters)–President Bush said Wednesday he was committed to a "territorially intact" Iraq as he sought to allay Turkish fears that Iraqi Kurds may seek a breakaway state.

Meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in the Oval Office–Bush told reporters–"I assured him of the United States’ ambitions for a peaceful country–a democratic Iraq that is territorially intact."

Turkish officials have been concerned that Iraqi Kurds might press for an independent state–which could boost independence claims by Turkey’s own restive Kurdish minority.

Although US officials have said in the past they would like Iraq to remain intact–they have also emphasized that a plan calling for the June 30 handover of sovereignty to Iraq meant that the United States could not dictate decisions.

The Kurds–who fought with the United States to topple Saddam Hussein–are one of Iraq’s best-organized ethnic groups after enjoying US-protected autonomy since the Gulf War in 1991. The Kurds have presented a plan to the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council that gran’s significant autonomy to the Kurdish region.

US officials have previously indicated that they would be inclined to allow the Kurdish region to remain semi-autonomous.

Erdogan in the meeting thanked Bush for placing a Turkish Kurd rebel group based in northern Iraq on its list of terrorist organizations.

The group–the People’s Congress of Kurdistan–is also known by its acronym KONGRA-GEL. It is an offshoot of a rebel group known until 2002 as the Kurdish Workers Party–PKK–and then as the Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan–KADEK.

Bush will be traveling to Istanbul in May for the NATO summit.

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