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Turkey warns of internal fighting in Iraq
( 2004-01-17 13:57) (Agencies)

Turkey's military warned Friday that "bloody" internal fighting could erupt in Iraq if political power there is divided up based on ethnicity.

Turkey is worried about demands by Iraqi Kurds for greater autonomy in oil-rich northern Iraq. Turkey and neighbors Syria and Iran fear Iraqi Kurds might eventually push for independence and bring instability to their own borders.

Iran, Syria and Turkey all have large Kurdish minorities in regions bordering Iraq. Turkish Kurdish rebels fought a 15-year war for autonomy in southeastern Turkey that claimed some 37,000 lives before ending in 1999.

"Iraq's future might be very bloody if there was a federal structure, especially based on ethnicity," Turkey's deputy chief of staff Gen. Ilker Basbug told a news conference. "This is not an ideal solution."

Kurdish leaders on the Iraqi Governing Council are asking for greater autonomy for the north and a federal Iraq based on two ethnic regions. Most Iraqis and neighboring countries have objected to the proposal, fearing ethnic separatism.

Washington wants the Iraqis to write their own constitution while preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq meaning no Kurdish secession.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday that the United States supports Iraq's territorial integrity and political unity.

"We think that ... a democratic state where all Iraqis live together and work together and decide their own future, is the kind of state that can be a good neighbor," said Boucher.

He added that there was widespread agreement within the Iraqi governing council on a unified Iraq with territorial integrity.

In apparent reference to Kurdish claims to northern Iraqi oil, Basbug said, "Turkey has sensitivities, one of them is the sharing of natural resources equally."

Basbug also urged the United States to take quick military action against Turkish Kurdish rebels holed up in the mountains of northern Iraq.

Turkey and the United States agreed in September on a plan against an estimated 5,000 Turkish Kurdish rebels, but the U.S. actions since have not satisfied Turkey.

"From now on, we expect the United States to start taking military action," Basburg said. "We want to say that it is getting difficult to wait. Our expectation is that the United States disarm the terrorist organization PKK and hand them over to Turkey."

The State Department has branded the rebel group Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, which now calls itself KADEK, as a terrorist organization.

Analysts say it would be very difficult for the U.S. military to devote its troops to fight against Turkish Kurdish rebels in remote mountains, surrounded by mine fields.

Meanwhile, Barham Salih, an Iraqi Kurdish leader, met with Turkish officials in Ankara on Friday and discussed the status of Iraq's oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Kurds have a semiautonomous status, which they enjoyed under U.S.-British air protection after the 1991 Gulf War. They also have a claim over a number of northern cities, including Kirkuk, home to a large number of Arabs and ethnic Turks. Turkey opposes any move to allow Kurds to rule the region.

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