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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 11:47 GMT
Analysis: Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds
Turkish Premier Ecevit, KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani and Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem
Turkish Premier Bulent Ecevit, right< KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani, centre, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem
By the BBC's Hiwa Osman

The two main parties controlling the Kurdish region of Iraq have ruled out any plans to establish an independent Kurdish state.

Turkey is concerned that an independent Kurdish state in Iraq would encourage its large Kurdish population, who do not have cultural and linguistic rights, to call for a state of their own.

But in a joint statement, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said that they "categorically reject baseless and provocative accusations" that they were planning an independent state and understand the "legitimate concerns of neighbouring countries, especially of Turkey".

Iraqi Kurds
They have been governing their area since 1991
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) share power
They have been under Western protection since 1991
Turkey hosts the air base from which US and UK planes patrol the no-fly zone

Ruling out any plans for separation, the Kurdish parties said: "We advocate a democratic and federal solution for the Kurdish issue and we support Iraq's territorial integrity."

Security safeguard

Turkey provides valuable access for the landlocked Iraqi Kurds to the outside world and hosts the American air base that protects the no-fly zone in northern Iraq.

In return, the Kurdish parties, who have been governing the area south of Turkey's border with Iraq since 1991, have been trying to maintain good neighbourly relations with Turkey.

"It is our primary duty to safeguard the security of our borders and the stability in the region," the joint statement added.

In performing this "duty", Iraqi Kurds have prevented Turkey's main Kurdish rebel party, the PKK, from operating in their area. This has involved armed clashes and allowed the Turkish army to enter their region to pursue the PKK.

Fragile economy

Another mutual benefit of this uneasy partnership is the relatively stable trade across the border. Shops in the Iraqi Kurdish region are stacked with Turkish products brought by trucks that return to Turkey with cheap Iraqi fuel.

While playing the role of a key US ally in the region, Turkey also enjoys good commercial and diplomatic ties with Baghdad.

Over the past year, talks on boosting trade and improving diplomatic relations between the two countries have increased as Turkey has sought ways to bolster its fragile economy.


We advocate a democratic and federal solution for the Kurdish issue and we support Iraq's territorial integrity

PUK & KDP

If the US-led campaign against terrorism extends to Iraq, Turkey will have a key role to play, as it will provide a northern military base. But Turkey is wary of the consequences of such an attack.

In addition to its concerns over the disintegration of Iraq and subsequent establishment of a Kurdish state, it will be difficult for Turkey's troubled economy to withstand a war on its border as it will affect its trade with the Kurds and with Baghdad.

The Iraqi Kurds are keen to appease Turkey's border security concerns. "Over the past 10 years, we've worked closely with Turkey to address its border security concerns," KDP's foreign relations chief, Hoshyar Zebari told the BBC. "Turkey is a valuable neighbour."

This valued-neighbour status that Turkey enjoys with the Iraqi Kurds may not be the same if Baghdad takes control of the Kurdish area.

The current state of affairs seems convenient for the Turks, as they enjoy stable political and economic ties with the US, Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurds.

See also:

17 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iraq defiant over US threat
17 Jan 02 | Americas
Bush warns Iraq over arms
15 Dec 01 | Middle East
Iraqi Kurds buoyed by US visit
11 Dec 01 | Middle East
US officials meet Iraqi Kurds
31 Aug 01 | Middle East
Iraqi Kurds face uncertain future
08 Nov 01 | Middle East
Powell says Iraq may be next target
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