Turkish Army Warns Iraqi Kurds US over Kirkuk

ANKARA (AFP)–Ethnic strife in Kirkuk–sparked by Kurdish attempts to take control of the oil-rich city in northern Iraq–would create "serious" security concerns for Turkey–the Turkish army warned on Wednesday. It might also open a rift with the United States–it said.

The number two in line–in the influential Turkish military–renewed Ankara’s charges that more Kurds than those expelled from Kirkuk under Saddam Hussein’s regime have now settled in the city and registered for Sunday’s elections in Iraq.

"We have repeatedly said that such a situation may make the election results in Kirkuk disputable and make it almost impossible to find a fair and lasting solution for Kirkuk," General Ilker Basbug told a news conference. "Moreover–we are concerned that such developmen’s will pose a threat to Iraq’s territorial and political unity and create a great security problem in the region," he said. "Such a development will also create a serious security problem for Turkey."

Ankara is vehemently opposed to Kurdish control of Kirkuk–which many Kurds want to incorporate into their enclave in northern Iraq and even see as the capital of a future independent Kurdish state–a nightmare scenario for Iraq’s neighbors.

Earlier this month the Kurds reached a deal with the Iraqi government that cleared the way for an estimated 100,000 Kurds said to have been expelled from Kirkuk in the past–to vote for the new local government in the elections.

The deal effectively tipped the balance of power to the Kurds–fanning ethnic tensions in the city–home to a large number of Turkmen–a community of Turkish descent backed by Ankara.

Basbug warned that post-election disputes in Kirkuk "may lead to confrontations…and may pull the trigger for a civil war in Iraq."

Asked about the United States’s role in preventing unrest in the region–the general conceded that "the circumstances in Iraq are very difficult," but cautioned that ethnic tensions in Kirkuk might deal a blow to Turkey’s ties with its long-standing ally.

"If the people of Kirkuk endorse the election results–we will conclude that no major problem exists," he said. "But if the opposite happens–then we will see that we have differences" with the US.

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