ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkey is sending military observers to Kirkuk following an Iraqi Kurdish move into the oil-rich city in northern Iraq, Turkey's foreign minister said Thursday.
Turkey has repeatedly said that it will not accept Iraqi Kurdish control of Kirkuk.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said he spoke with Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday and Powell offered to let Turkey send military observers to Kirkuk to make sure that Iraqi Kurdish fighters withdraw from the city.
"We've accepted this," Gul said.
Turkey has had several thousand troops in northern Iraq for the past few years fighting Turkish Kurdish rebels who have bases in northern Iraq not far from the Turkish border.
Gul said Powell assured Turkey that Iraqi Kurds would not keep control of Kirkuk.
Turkey has in the past threatened to send its own forces into northern Iraq to prevent Kurdish control of Kirkuk. Washington has told Turkish officials that the capture of Kirkuk would be coordinated with coalition forces.
"We have reminded them of their guarantee," Gul told reporters. "We have told them that we are willing to contribute if they haven't got enough forces. They have said that they are sending new forces within a few hours and that Kurds will be withdrawn."
"There is no reason for any concerns with these assurances," Gul said, adding that the head of Turkey's military, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, would speak later in the day with Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff
Turkey fears Iraqi Kurdish control of the resource-rich area could encourage the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Turkey says an Iraqi Kurdish state could serve as an inspiration for Turkish Kurdish rebels who fought for 15 years in southeastern Turkey.
Turkey's leaders have in the past indicated Turkey would deploy troops in northern Iraq if there were signs of a refugee crisis or if there were signs Iraqi Kurds were moving toward statehood.
"We are following events very closely and they are aware of that," Gul said.
The United States fears any Turkish incursion could lead to clashes between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey and even friendly fire incidents between the United States and Turkey.