KIRKUK, Iraq – Kurdish fighters will leave oil-rich Kirkuk when enough American troops arrive to take over, a senior Kurdish leader said Friday.
"The United States will be in control of Kirkuk," said Barham Salih, prime minister of the eastern sector of the Kurds' autonomous region in northern Iraq.
"We are talking to the Americans and all other authorities to make sure that Kirkuk is vacated of all outside military forces," he said. Turkey, alarmed at the Kurdish takeover, said it had "reviewed" its troop readiness along the border with northern Iraq.
Turkey has threatened to send troops in the Kurds keep control of Kirkuk and of Mosul, which fell Friday. The United States assured the Turkish government the Americans will replace the Kurdish peshmerga fighters in Kirkuk.
"The peshmerga who are not from the city will vacate the city when there is enough American military personnel to maintain law and order," Salih said.
Looting followed the Kurds' seizure of the city on Thursday and was widespread Friday. Gunfire crackled and bands of youths roamed the streets, wielding sticks.
"We're scared, too," said Rostam Hamid Rahim, a high-level military commander from Salih's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party.
"We'll control the situation," he said, suggesting that Americans could police the city with the help of hundreds of Kurds.
Dozens of American special forces troops and about 1,200 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade already have entered the city.
Salih called the armed Kurds in Kirkuk a "temporary" situation. But the guerrillas have heightened Turkey's fear that Kurds would use the city's oil wealth to help fund an independent state and encourage Kurds in Turkey to seek independence.