Turkey Hits Back at Iraqi Kurdish Leader over Independence, Kirkuk

ANKARA (AFP)–Turkish leaders warned Iraqi Kurds Tuesday that their claims to the ethnically volatile, oil-rich city of Kirkuk in Iraq and talk of independence would fuel conflict in the region, Anatolia news agency reported. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul accused the head of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, Massud Barzani, of being "irrational" after he told Turkish television that regional countries should accept that Kurds, who live in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, have a right to independence. "Irrational leadership and … dreaming in the Middle East have always plunged the peoples into trouble," Gul told journalists on a flight back home from Afghanistan, Anatolia reported. He slammed Barzani’s remarks as "either deliberate or an example of irresponsibility at a time when the region, and particularly Iraq, is passing through a critical period and when Turkey is following a constructive policy." Barzani told the NTV news channel Monday that Iraqi Kurds were extending "a hand of friendship" to Turkey and urged face-to-face talks to end high-running bilateral tensions over Turkish Kurd rebels who have found safe haven in his autonomous region in neighboring northern Iraq. Ankara is worried that Kurdish control of Kirkuk’s oil reserves will boost what it sees as Kurdish aspirations to break away from Baghdad. Kurdish independence, it fears, could further fuel a bloody Kurdish separatist insurgency in adjoining southeast Turkey, which has already resulted in more than 37,000 deaths. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also denounced Barzani’s commen’s. "Kirkuk resembles a small Iraq and is not the registered property of any ethnic group," Anatolia quoted him as saying late Monday. "Such an attitude is very wrong with regards to Iraq’s future. I believe such an attitude will overshadow peace, love and brotherhood in Iraq," he said. Both Erdogan and Gul have recently asserted that Ankara was open to talks with Iraqi Kurds to mend fences and discuss ways of curbing the rebels based in northern Iraq, contrary to earlier Turkish threats of a cross-border military operation into the region. Ankara has grown increasingly impatient with US and Iraqi reluctance to move against the militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist group by both Ankara and Washington, among others. Army chief General Yasar Buyukanit has accused Iraqi Kurds of "fully" supporting the PKK and providing it with explosives for bomb attacks in Turkey. In Monday’s interview, Barzani denied that Iraqi Kurds supported the group.

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