Angry With Iraqi Kurd Leader, Turkey Complains to US

ANKARA (AFP–Turkey has complained to the United States over Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani after he reportedly threatened to interfere in Ankara’s affairs if it continued to oppose Kurdish claims on the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, officials said Monday. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul "conveyed our sensitivities" to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a telephone conversation at the weekend, a senior diplomat told AFP. "A leader like Barzani, or any reasonable person should avoid statemen’s that can open rifts between the two sides," the diplomat said. Asked by reporters Monday what Turkey’s response to Barzani would be, Gul only said: "You will see." The Turkish media quoted Barzani, head of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, as saying that they would meddle in Turkey’s already restive, predominantly-Kurdish southeast if Ankara continued to oppose Iraqi Kurdish ambitions to attach Kirkuk to their region. Turkey says a referendum on Kirkuk’s future status, scheduled to be held by the year-end, should be postponed, arguing that thousands of Kurds have been moved into the city to change its demography. Kirkuk is also home to Arabs and Turkmens, a Turkish-speaking community backed by Ankara. Barzani reportedly said that if Turkey "interferes in Kirkuk over just a few thousand Turkmens, then we will take action regarding the 30 million Kurds in Turkey."Barzani’s words are extremely disturbing, unacceptable and are considered as a provocation," the English-language Turkish Daily News paper quoted Gul as telling Rice. Ankara worries that Kurdish control of Kirkuk and its vast oil reserves would embolden what it believes are Kurdish ambitions to break away from Baghdad. Kurdish independence, it fears, could fuel the two-decade Kurdish separatist insurgency in adjoining southeast Turkey, which has already resulted in more than 37,000 deaths. Tensions are already high between the two sides over Turkish accusations that Iraqi Kurds tolerate, and even support, thousands of armed Turkish Kurd rebels who have found refuge in the mountains of northern Iraq. Ankara has threatened a cross-border operation into the region to crack down on the rebel camps if Baghdad and Washington fail to act against them. Separately, the New Anatolian daily reported Monday that Iraqi Kurdish objections to Istanbul were instrumental in Baghdad’s decision to favor the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh as the venue of a high-level international meeting in early May to discuss the turmoil in Iraq.

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