Kurdish leaders said Friday that they would resist if the United States let Turks join any invasion of northern Iraq. Their statement added to fears that American troops could be caught in a generations-old ethnic struggle for control of the strategic border region.
Turkey plans to send thousands of troops into northern Iraq during any U.S. invasion, ostensibly to provide humanitarian aid for people displaced by the fighting. It also wants to prevent weapons held by Kurdish groups from falling into the hands of independence-minded Turkish Kurds, who also have bases in northern Iraq.
"Our people are going to resist the plan with all the means at their disposal," said Sami Abdul Rahman, deputy prime minister of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which runs the western half of the Kurdistan region in Iraq. "Nothing whatsoever will persuade us to accept an incursion of Turkish forces."
The Kurds fear that the Turks would remain indefinitely in northern Iraq and try to subjugate Kurdish aspirations for self-rule. Turkey is worried that such aspirations could encourage its own sizable Kurdish minority to demand the same rights.
If Kurds took up arms against any Turkish forces who entered Kurdistan, that could drag U.S. troops into an ethnic war as they were trying to restore order in a postwar Iraq.
Kurdistan has enjoyed de facto autonomy and protection against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces thanks to U.S. and British enforcement of a "no-fly" zone in northern Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The eastern part of Kurdistan is controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
The Kurds generally have been pro-American. But their concerns about a possible Turkish incursion are growing.
In exchange for cooperating in a possible northern front against Hussein, Turks have asked Washington for money and guarantees that Iraqi Kurds would not use the war as a chance to declare independence.