SALAHUDDIN, Iraq – Kurdish soldiers flanked the route of a U.S. envoy traveling in northern Iraq on Tuesday, underlining security concerns of clashes between Kurds and U.S.-allied Turkish troops in case of war in Iraq.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. representative to the Iraqi opposition, and David Pearce, a U.S. State Department official, crossed from Turkey into the Kurdish autonomous zone of Iraq to meet with opposition leaders here this week to discuss a formula for governing Iraq once Saddam Hussein is ousted.
A 65-member steering committee of opposition figures elected at a conference in London last December has been meeting in closed-door exploratory sessions for four days in Salahuddin. Delegates had held off starting the session until the American officials had arrived.
But the session has been clouded by anger over reports that the United States plans to sideline the opposition and establish a military administration. And ethnic Kurds here are enraged by U.S. plans to allow thousands of Turkish soldiers to enter northern Iraq for what the Turks call a humanitarian mission.
The Kurds believe the Turks want to ensure that Kurds do not declare an independent state, thus encouraging Turkey's own, separatist-minded Kurdish minority.
In Washington, Philip T. Reeker, a State Department official, said the United States supports an Iraq "that's democratic, that's multiethnic, that's based on the rule of law, but certainly that preserves Iraq's sovereign territorial integrity, an Iraq that's at peace with its neighbors."
But the increasing anxiety among the Kurds has raised fears that U.S. troops in northern Iraq could be caught in the often bloody, generations-old struggle between Turks and Kurds for control of the strategic region near the borders with Turkey, Syria and Iran.
During a regular session of the Kurdish parliament in Irbil on Tuesday, speaker after speaker denounced Turkey's plans to send in troops.
"The position that Turkey is now taking is not a friendly one," said Emad Ahmad, a Patriotic Union parliamentary representative. "We can't forget that our main enemy is Saddam. But any other country that behaves like him will be the same to us."
The debate ended with the parliament's voting unanimously voted to call on the United States to stop Turkish troops from entering northern Iraq in the event of war.
Tarik al-Azami -- one of the opposition members at the conference in Salahuddin, 20 miles north of Irbil -- said the group would send a delegation to Turkey to assure Ankara that the Iraqi Kurds don't want an independent state.
The opposition figures -- including Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Kurds, ethnic Turks, Assyrians and secular representatives -- hope to press the American delegation on a number of matters, including the reported U.S. plan to establish an American military protectorate following Saddam's fall and the proposed Turkish incursion.