Iraqi Kurds Won't Commit to U.S. Plans

A key Iraqi opposition figure said Wednesday his group would not "blindly" commit to any U.S. plans to topple Saddam Hussein.

Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two Kurdish factions controlling northern Iraq, spoke during a visit to Ankara. He was en route to Washington for meetings with U.S. officials along with other opposition figures.

"We are not for blindly participating in any attack or in any plan," Talabani said after talks with Turkish Foreign Ministry officials. "We are not in favor of having a new dictatorship replacing the old one."

Iraqi Kurds control an autonomous zone in northern Iraq that could become a key base if U.S. forces try to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Kurds enjoy a large degree of freedom in the autonomous areas and are concerned about what type of government would replace Saddam and if the Kurds would continue to enjoy autonomy.

Kurds rose up against Saddam after the 1991 Gulf War, a rebellion that was suppressed by Iraqi forces. Many Kurds had been looking to the United States for support during that rebellion and are extremely hesitant to consider joining any U.S.-led alliance.

Earlier, Talabani told private NTV television he was confident that the Iraqi opposition could unite against Saddam.

"There is a high possibility of unifying the opposition," NTV quoted Talabani as saying. "I think a new front will emerge."

Talabani was scheduled to meet with military officials to discuss the prospects of U.S.-led military action against Iraq.

Turkey is extremely wary of any cooperation with the Iraqi Kurds. It fears they could set up an independent state that might encourage Turkey's own restive Kurdish minority.

Turkey was a staging point for attacks against Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War and would also be key to any future coalition.