U.S. Special Envoy: Iraqi Kurds Will Not Seize Kirkuk

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad assured Turkish officials Monday that Iraqi Kurds would not unilaterally wrest the strategic oil city of Kirkuk from Saddam Hussein's control.

The Kurds consider the city an essential part of their ethnic lands. But Ankara fears the Kurds will use Kirkuk to create an independent homeland that would inspire Turkey's Kurdish minority to revolt.

Turkey has warned that it would send troops into Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to prevent such a move -- something the United States seeks to prevent.

"Kurdish militias are under the command and control of U.S. forcesrom moving in or doing an uprising in Kirkuk, and then sending forces in there."

Secretary of State Colin Powell is likely to discuss Turkey's concerns when he travels to Ankara this week.

The Kurdish fighters, under the command of U.S. forces, are now 15 miles from Kirkuk. The forces advanced Sunday, taking control of some 10 miles of territory as Iraqi forces withdrew. The advance was unchallenged but apparently slowed by dense mine fields left by Saddam's troops.

Washington has warned Turkey against unilaterally sending troops into the area. Turkey already has several thousand soldiers in the region to combat Turkish Kurdish guerrillas there. Tens of thousands more Turkish troops are in border areas ready to cross into Iraq.

The head of Turkey's military, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, has said there would be no deployment unless a refugee crisis emerged or Turkey's security was threatened. He also pledged last week that Turkey would coordinate with the United States before sending any troops into northern Iraq.

Said Khalilzad, "We will do everything we can in cooperation with Turkey and local people in northern Iraq to head off those problems."