ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey has expressed its "unease” to the United States over what it says are signs Kurds are seeking control of northern Iraq’s oil-rich city of Kirkuk–Turkish diplomatic sources said on Thursday.
Kurdish control of the city and its vast oil fields are seen in Turkey as the first step towards a Kurdish state–despite Iraqi Kurds’ avowals they do not seek independence from Baghdad.
Turkey fears a Kurdish state in Iraq could spark separatism among its own 12 million Kurds–but it has backed off from threats to invade if it sees moves towards independence.
"There is an ongoing dialogue with US authorities on the issue of Iraq. We have conveyed our fundamental approach that Iraqi cities belong to all Iraqis,” the diplomatic source said.
Asked if Turkey had spoken to Washington of its concerns over Kirkuk–the source said: "Our unease…has been discussed.”
The source would not say what events had raised concerns in Ankara. A Turkish Foreign Ministry delegation has been in Iraq for more than a week and has met Kurdish leaders in the north.
Tensions have simmered in ethnically diverse Kirkuk since the city fell to US-backed Kurdish "peshmerga” fighters. More than 10 people were killed at the weekend in clashes between Kurds and Arabs.
Kirkuk’s Arabs have accused Washington of favoring Kurds–who backed the US-led war to depose former President Saddam Hussein. US forces on Thursday detained two Arab candidates in Kirkuk days before a local election.
Turkey keeps a few thousand troops in the north to pursue guerrillas who fought for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey that killed more than 30,000 people in the 1980s and 1990s.
Relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States soured after Ankara refused to allow in tens of thousands of US troops to open a second front on Iraq during the war.