Iraqi Turcoman Minority Urges Turkey to Keep Out

ARBIL–IRAQ (Reuters)–Iraq’s Turcoman ethnic minority–whose protection Turkey often cites as a key reason for sending troops into northern Iraq–urged Turkey on Saturday to keep out–saying such a move would be "baseless.”

With a US-led attack on Iraq to force out President Saddam Hussein an increasing possibility–Turkey has already sent some troops to the self-governed Kurdish territory in northern Iraq.

Turkey has a large Kurdish minority near the Iraqi border–and is keen to establish a buffer zone to prevent any calls for the establishment of a separate Kurdish state in post-Saddam northern Iraq from spilling over into its own territory.

It has routinely cited the need to protect ethnic Turcoman citizens–who form a minority in Iraqi Kurdistan and are closely related by language and culture to both Turks and the Turkmen of ex-Soviet Turkmen’stan–as a justification for military intervention.

Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said on Friday that if war were to start–there should be more Turkish than US troops in northern Iraq.

But a senior Turcoman representative in Iraq dismissed the idea on Saturday–saying no military incursion was needed.

"We don’t think circumstances are conducive to intervention–as the Turcoman people have no fears living here–and have enjoyed democracy since 1991,” Jawdat Najar–a senior representative of northern Iraq’s Turcoman National Association–told a briefing.

"We the Turcoman people are not in need of asking an army from a neighboring country…this would be baseless.”

The three Iraqi provinces which make up Iraqi Kurdistan under the protection of a so-called "no fly zone” patrolled by the US and British aircraft since 1991–enjoy far greater political pluralism and press freedom than many parts of the region.

"Those asking for Turkish military intervention probably have their own agenda–but the Turcoman people are not suffering from any persecution or any pressure here–so that kind of intervention would not be needed,” Najar said.

Romeo Hakari–General Secretary of the Christian Assyrian Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party–agreed.

"We are not only against intervention from the Turkish side–but from any regional countries. We would stand against this,” he told the same briefing.

Najar added that he believed the Iraqi people would resist military rule in any form in an Iraq post President Saddam Hussein.

"The Iraqi people would not be willing to accept a military ruler from the United States–how then would they be willing to accept a military leader from a neighboring country?” he asked.

"I do not think Turkey would make such a mistake. Turkey has a legitimate right to have fears over its national security–but not to intervene in Iraq. We the Iraqi people are all against it.”


The Kurds’ parliament in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq–meanwhile–called on the United States on Tuesday to prevent an influx of Turkish troops if US-led forces invade Iraq.

Neighboring Turkey–which firmly opposes any independent Kurdish state–has been negotiating with Washington on the role Turkish troops would play in north Iraq–beyond Baghdad’s control since the 1991 Gulf War–in the event of war over Iraq’s alleged banned weapons.

Turkey’s government agreed on Monday to seek parliamentary approval for US troops to deploy in the country for a possible attack on Iraq–but it said a final deal on terms with Washington had yet to be sealed.

"We ask the United States and other allies to not let the military of Turkey or other countries enter Kurdistan,” said the text of a declaration passed unanimously by the Kurdish assembly–which is dominated by two Kurdish factions that run northern Iraq.

Turkey–while insisting it will keep out of combat in any war on Iraq–fears a breakaway Kurdish state could emerge from the crisis–reigniting armed Kurdish separatism in the Turkish southeast.

The head of the Kurdish assembly said there was no reason for any Turkish intervention in north Iraq.

"We asked America to use its influence to keep regional forces from entering our area–because we are capable of protecting our own borders,” Kamal Abdelkarim Fouad told reporters.

"We respect the borders of regional states–but at the same time we don’t accept these countries getting involved in our internal affairs,” he said.

Turkey has long had troops in north Iraq to hunt separatist Turkish Kurds based in the area–where Iraqi Kurds enjoy self-rule–protected by US and British warplanes patrolling a "no-fly zone.”

Separatist Turkish Kurds waged a bloody campaign in the 1980s and 1990s to carve out an ethnic homeland from Turkey.

The two main Kurdish groups–the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Jalal Talabani–and Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party–united in a joint parliament in October last year–ending their feuds that led to five years of fighting in the 1990s.


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