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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 06:49 GMT
Iraqi Kurd leader tours region
PUK Leader Jalal Talabani (photo Hiwa Osman)
PUK leader Jalal Talabani appeasing the neighbours

By the BBC's Hiwa Osman

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of two main parties controlling Iraq's Kurdish region, is touring neighbouring countries to assure them that the Kurds in Iraq have no intention of establishing a state of their own.

His visit to Turkey and Syria comes amid increasing speculations that the US-led campaign against terrorism is going to extend to Iraq.

In an interview with BBC News Online, PUK Leader Jalal Talabani described his visit to Turkey as "very successful".


We are part of the campaign against terrorism all over the world. We support the struggle against terrorism

Jalal Talabani
"We discussed all the problems with our brothers in Turkey and reached a common conclusion about the future of Iraq," he said.

Turkish officials have said in the past that if the US attacks Iraq, the Kurds in the north will establish a state of their own, an act Turkey would consider "act of war".

Trying to appease these concerns, Mr Talabani said: "We explained to them that there were no separatist tendencies in the Kurdish movement and that the idea of an independent Kurdish state in not realistic."

"On the contrary, all the Kurdish parties are for a united and democratic Iraq," he added.

Syrian leg

Another stopping point in Mr Talabani's tour was Damascus, where he met President Asad and told him the PUK is "an Iraqi Democratic force that is struggling for a democratic Iraq and for the national unity of the country".

PUK leader Jalal Talabani (photo Hiwa Osman)
Maintaining a delicate balance

"He [Asad] was satisfied with the explanation," said Mr Talabani.

While Mr Talabani was in Damascus, the Iraqi vice-president Izzat Ibrahim was visiting the Syrian capital too.

Analysts say Syria might mediate between the Kurds and Baghdad as it enjoys good relations with both.

But Mr Talabani ruled out any connection between the two visits.

"He was here before me. When I arrived, he had left for Beirut," he said.

Earlier this week, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein tried to reach out to the Kurds and offered to discuss "improving the autonomy law".

Mr Talabani said that he had not seen the text of the statement yet.

War on Terror

Iraq's Kurdish region has been out of Saddam Hussein's reach since 1991 and remains under the control of the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

If the US-led war on terror reaches Iraq, the Kurdish region will have a key role to play, as it could become a base for attacks against Baghdad.

But the Kurds have been wary of making any statements in this respect for fear of provoking reprisals by Saddam Hussein's army.

"We are part of the campaign against terrorism all over the world. We support the struggle against terrorism," said Mr Talabani.

But on the Kurdish position with regards to the war being extended to Iraq, he said: "we don't know anything about it. There is confusion now. We can't decide"


There are no separatist tendencies in the Kurdish movement. All the Kurdish parties are for a united and democratic Iraq

Jalal Talabani
"The Kurdish people must be aware about the future of Iraq and the alternative regime. Then we can decide," he added.

Since September 11, Iraqi Kurds and Baghdad have expressed opposing positions. Iraq is one of few countries that did not condemn the attack or express its support for the war on terror.

Meanwhile, the Kurds in the north have extended sympathy for the victims and expressed their support for the US-led response.

If the US decides to extend its war on terror to Iraq, the Kurds will be faced with the tough tasks of choosing between Baghdad and Washington, and of assuring their neighbours of their non-separatist intentions.

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Audio
Jalal Talabani
See also:

12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Saddam renews Kurdish threats
08 Mar 02 | Middle East
Anti-Saddam radio faces problems
05 Mar 02 | Middle East
Iraqi Kurdish leader visits Turkey
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