AMERICAN FORCES IN IRAQI KURDISTAN

ANKARA 7 Feb. (IPS) Turkish, American and Iraqi Kurdish officials met in Ankara on Thursday to chart a joint course of action if and when the U.S. forces attack Baghdad to topple the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hoseyn.

Sources close to the meeting told Iran Press Service that American military operation in Iraq was imminent, to start at then end of the present month of February, "if the Baghdad government does not do something dramatic at the last minute allowing to end the crisis through peaceful means".

As at the same time, the Turkish parliament, dominated by the Justice and Development Party AKP, approved plans to allow the Americans use Turkish military bases when they go to war, but delayed another suggestions for sending troops inside the northern part of Iraq, controlled by the Iraqi Kurds.

Iraq's ambassador to Turkey said that if Ankara opened its military bases to the United States for a war on Iraq it would be committing a "great crime" and effectively joining the war.

US Special Envoy for Iraq, the Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, who arrived in Ankara Tuesday for what appeared to be a "war council" meeting with the Turkish officials, announced on Wednesday that the U.S. and Turkey agreed to form a subcommittee that will work on the political track and look forward to political process consultations.

"A memorandum of understanding will be signed after these consultations between the U.S. and Turkey on the future of Iraq. We have started these consultations from now", stated Khalilzad after his contacts in Turkish Foreign Ministry, adding: Turkey is a vital strategic ally for the U.S."

Turkey's Prime Minister Abdullah Gul Thursday emphasized in a televised address that the legislative action did not mean Turkey would enter a war against Iraq. "Turkey will not enter a war. The Turkish Armed Forces will not enter combat", Gul told reporters in Ankara, adding that however, Turkey might send troops to maintain security and stop the local Kurds to form an independent state.

The United States has been pressing Turkey to allow 40,000 troops in the country. Currently, U.S. forces patrolling the Iraq northern no-fly zone use Turkey as a hub to operate. The U.S. military already has thousands of troops in Turkey.

Washington had earlier asked to be allowed to station 80,000 troops in Turkey, but downgraded that figure earlier this month.

The Turkish, American, Kurdish meeting in Ankara was attended by Mr. Jalal Talebani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Prime Minister of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK) Nechirvan Barzani and Mr. Khalilzad.

On the instance of Ankara, Sanan Ahmad Aqa, the leader of Iraqi Turkoman Front (ITC) was also present, but did not intervene in the debate.

The two Kurdish groups represented at the talks have already declared they have no intention of declaring an independent Kurdish state and expressed their strong opposition to the entry of Turkish forces in their territories, saying they want to be a part of a united Iraq and have a say on how the country is run from Baghdad.

"We regard the Americans as liberators and our neighbours as looters", the New York Times quoted a Kurdish source.

There is also an ongoing debate on the status of Kirkook and Mosul. Turkey says the area is dominated by Turkomans and should not fall under the jurisdiction of the Kurds.

According to the Turkish press, Turkey and Kurdish forces have agreed to not enter Mosul and Kirkuk in a possible war, leaving the United States the responsibility for security of the oil producing cities.

"If Kurdish groups attempt to claim Mosul and Kirkuk, Turkey will have the right to intervene in the region", the press said.

Meanwhile, the Iranian news agency IRNA, quoted Thursday Mohammad Hadji Mahmood, the Secretary general of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party that between 700 and 1,000 US troops are already in northern Iraq, "with some 50 more arriving each day".

He also confirmed the preparation of three landing strips in the region, near the enclave's main cities of Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniya. US FORCES IN KURDISTAN 7203