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Turkey urges Iraq to delay referendum on oil-rich city of Kirkuk

Turkey urges Iraq to delay referendum on oil-rich city of Kirkuk

Turkey's prime minister on Tuesday urged one of Iraq's two vice presidents to delay a referendum on the future of Kirkuk, fearing Iraqi Kurdish groups could seize control of the northern city.
Turkey is concerned about the growing power of Iraqi Kurds and has repeatedly warned Iraqi Kurdish groups against trying to seize control of the oil-rich city, saying Turkey will not stand by amid growing tensions among ethnic Turkmens, Arabs and Kurds.
Iraq's constitution calls for a referendum on Kirkuk's future by the end of the year.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi the normalization of security sought by the Iraqi constitution has not occurred in Kirkuk and the referendum must be postponed, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
Iraqi Kurds, who claim the region as their own and hope to eventually include Kirkuk in a region of self-rule in northern Iraq, accused Turkey of interfering in Iraq's internal affairs.
Turkey fears Iraq's Kurds want Kirkuk's oil revenues to fund a bid for independence that could encourage separatist Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey, who have been fighting for autonomy since 1984. Erdogan also asked Abdul-Mahdi to stop attacks by separatist Kurdish guerrillas, based in Iraq, on Turkey.
Kirkuk, an ancient city that once was part of the Ottoman Empire, has a large minority of ethnic Turks as well as Christians, Shiite and Sunni Arabs, Armenians and Assyrians.
Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, thousands of Kurds pushed out of the region under Saddam Hussein's rule have returned.
Kirkuk lies just south of the autonomous Kurdish region stretching across Iraq's northeast.
Erdogan also met with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, telling him that Turkey would work for a diplomatic solution to the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program, according to state-run Anatolia news agency.
Mottaki in turn insisted that Iran's nuclear program was peaceful, the agency said, citing sources close to Erdogan. Later in the day, Mottaki met with Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul, but no official statements were issued after either of Mottaki's meetings.
Turkey _ a predominantly Muslim country that is an ally of the U.S. and NATO, a friend of Israel and a candidate to join the European Union _ is pushing to increase its influence in the Middle East, where it says it can help negotiate between Islamic countries and the West.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in Ankara last week that Israel considered Turkey a "strategic partner," and a "bridge" with Arab and Islamic countries with whom it does not have relations.
Although Turkey has limited leverage in the Islamic world, Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government has been pursuing shuttle-diplomacy in the hope of contributing to peace in the Middle East while urging Iran to be transparent about its nuclear program, which the United States fears may be used to produce nuclear weapons.
On Iraq, Turkey has stressed the importance of preserving the country's unity, and has pressured both Iraq and the U.S. to move against separatist Kurdish rebels who have been waging a bloody war in Turkey's southeast since 1984. The conflict has claimed the lives of 37,000 people.
Turkey has not ruled out military incursions into Iraq to hunt separatist Kurds, despite warnings from Washington, which fears that such a move could lead to tensions with local Iraqi Kurdish groups, an important ally of the U.S. in Iraq.


Updated : 2021-10-17 08:59 GMT+08:00