US opposes action destabilising northern Iraq: Rice


Baghdad : US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on an unannounced visit to Iraq, said Tuesday that Washington was opposed to any action that would destabilise northern Iraq, in reference to a Turkish military offensive launched in the area to seek out Kurdish rebels.

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At a press conference in Baghdad following her talks with the Iraqi foreign minister, Rice said that what happened Sunday was a decision made by Turkey.

She was referring to Turkish airstrikes on villages and positions of the Kurdistan’s Workers party in Iraq’s Kurdish Autonomous Region over the weekend.

Reports claimed that Washington gave Ankara the green light to launch the strikes.

Turkish leaders were told by Washington that those strikes would affect civilians, the US top diplomat said.

She urged Ankara and Baghdad to negotiate a comprehensive settlement for the problem stemming from northern Iraq.

Earlier, crucial talks in Kirkuk held by Rice and political powers from the ethnically volatile city focused on the future of the city.

Local officials and 35 representatives from the city’s ethnic communities, including from Turkmen, Arab and Kurdish political parties, were at the meeting, an official from Kirkuk province told the Voices of Iraq news agency.

Capital of the oil-rich province of the same name, Kirkuk is an ethnically-divided city with long-simmering tensions between its Arab, Turkmen and Kurdish populations, the latter of whom wish to see it incorporated into their autonomous region.

A referendum on the issue was due to be held in accordance with the Iraqi constitution by the end of 2007, but preparations hit a snag as disagreements over key problems, such as legislation on sharing oil resources, remain unresolved.

The referendum, the oil legislation and forming tribal police units were the focus of the meeting, according to state-owned al-Iraqiya TV.

Kirkuk lies south of the Kurdish autonomous region, which currently comprises the provinces of Dohuk, Arbil and Sulaymanyah.

A local politician said he and others were told before their talks with Rice they would meet a senior US official and Arab politicians were asked to wear their traditional robes.

Rice’s visit, her first to Kirkuk, was not announced for security reasons. It was her first visit to Iraq since September, when she accompanied President George Bush during his visit to the western al-Anbar province.