Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Iraqi Kurdish leader snubs a visit by Rice

He protested Turkish attacks that he said the U.S. allowed. As he spoke, Turkish troops entered Iraq for several hours.

BAGHDAD - The president of Iraq's Kurdish regional government refused to meet yesterday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, charging that the United States had given Turkey the "green light" to launch Sunday's air strikes inside Iraq's Kurdish region.

Massoud Barzani called the attacks "crimes" and said he would not meet with Rice. His remarks came as several hundred Turkish troops pushed into the region yesterday in an operation apparently aimed at Kurdish separatist guerrillas. The Turks withdrew after a few hours.

Barzani's boycott of Rice is the first open break between the United States and its longtime allies in Iraqi Kurdistan, one of the few regions of the country that have escaped massive sectarian violence.

Turkey has long complained that guerrillas from the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, have been given shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The PKK seeks to form an independent Kurdistan from parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, and it enjoys broad support in Kurdish Iraq.

"The Kurdish people are angry with the American administration because protecting the sky of Kurdistan is their responsibility," Barzani told reporters yesterday. "If Turkey had not received a green light from the United States, it would not have been able to commit these crimes. It would not have been able to kill those civilians."

On Sunday, Turkish fighter jets bombed reputed PKK positions, killing at least three people, wounding eight, and displacing about 300, Kurdish leaders said. The PKK said five of its members were killed and two were injured.

Yesterday, about 500 Turkish soldiers moved into northern Iraq. There were no reports of fighting, but Rice's unannounced visit to Baghdad and Kirkuk, a city that is hotly contested between Kurds and Arab Iraqis, spotlighted the growing differences over how to deal with the PKK in northern Iraq.

The commander of the Turkish army, Gen. Yasar Buyakanit, said that the United States supplied the intelligence to mount Sunday's attacks and approved their incursion into Iraqi air space. The United States has acknowledged furnishing Turkey with intelligence about the rebels.

Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of Iraqi Kurdistan's foreign relations department, called the events a low point in relations between Kurds and the United States.

"Morally and legally, they are responsible for providing security to the Iraqi people and protecting the sovereignty of Iraqi borders," Bakir said, referring to the United States.

Rice said Turkey, Iraq and the United States shared an interest in stopping the PKK, but she sidestepped questions about U.S. involvement in Turkey's most recent action, saying that launching the air strikes was Turkey's decision.

Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the Kurdish regional government, said it did not consider itself Turkey's target for now, but said if the attacks continued, that could change.