Turkey has signaled that it would not take advantage of a U.S.-led war against Iraq to move troops into Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Turkey, as long as the Kurds there don't declare independence or try to seize the oil production center of Kirkuk, according to Iraqi Kurdish leaders and others attending a conference here.
The often-quarrelsome leaders of Iraq's two main Kurdish factions, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party, spoke together in a rare show of unity at the conference, which discussed the future of Kurds in Iraq. Both predicted that a war would not produce another exodus of Kurds into Turkey, such as the one following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Such mass emigration could trigger Turkish intervention in Iraq.
"We think there will be no reason for Turkey to send troops inside Iraq because there will be no Kurdish independent state," said Patriotic Union leader Jalal Talabani. Turkey worries that its Kurdish minority might want to join such a state.
Answering a question from a Turkish reporter at a news conference about the possibility of Turkish intervention, Talabani said, "I have been told by your government that they don't want to interfere in Iraqi Kurdistan."
Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. diplomat with long experience in the region, said Turkey had laid down "two red lines" that could prompt intervention -- the declaration of an independent state or Kurdish troops moving to Kirkuk. But he added: "I am told by senior leaders in the Pentagon that Turkey will not intervene."
The Kurdish leaders expressed frustration about being left out of U.S. planning for a possible military strike. They also complained about being left out of planning for the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. They were hostile to a plan reported in U.S. newspapers to set up a temporary American military government in Iraq if President Saddam Hussein is overthrown.
"The Iraqis should rule themselves," said Massoud Barzani of the Kurdish Democratic Party. "We don't want to see any military rulers ruling Iraq, whether it is an Iraqi military dictator or a foreign military ruler."
"We need everything to be clear and transparent, especially in the post-Saddam era," Talabani said.
Hussein's government should be replaced by a democratic and federal system, of which Kurdistan would be a part, Kurdish leaders said.
Repeating a theme voiced by several speakers at the daylong conference, Talabani said, "Turkish intervention will lead to Iranian intervention, to Arab intervention, to chaos." He said the new Turkish government led by the Justice and Development Party would likely be "more positive and better understand the situation of Iraqi Kurdistan."
"Even if [Turkish] military intervention was for extending humanitarian assistance," said the Democratic Party's Barzani, "it would be groundless also. We have a viable administration" in northern Iraq and dozens of private aid agencies working there. In the event of a humanitarian crisis caused by war, Barzani said, "We can deal with it and handle it. We don't see any possibility of a mass exodus as in 1991. Things are different from 1991, when there was no infrastructure whatsoever."
But while saying Turkish intervention was unlikely and unnecessary, Talabani added that "there is not, in politics, a guarantee."
Turkey has emerged as a pivotal player as the Bush administration prepares for a possible military campaign against Hussein. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz travels to Ankara, the Turkish capital, next week to try to enlist the country's support in the event of war.
At the same time, any participation by Turkish troops in Iraq would be problematic. One often-repeated scenario is that in the event of a U.S.-led war, Iraqi Kurdish troops could move south, out of their zone of control, to seize Kirkuk. The area and its oil income would be added to the Kurdish autonomous zone, allowing 300,000 displaced Kurds to return there. But, because many Turks feel Kirkuk belongs to their country, the Turkish government might send troops there first, as a preemptive move.