DEBKAfile Exclusive: US forces transfer Iraqi Kurdistan’s security responsibility to local peshmerga to sidestep threatened Turkish invasion

Defense Secretary Robert Gates Sunday cautioned Turkey against sending troops into northern Iraq.

The heavy Turkish military buildup on the border of Iraqi Kurdistan last week prompted the autonomous region’s president, Massoud Barzani, to send a personal emissary, Safin Dizai, to Ankara with an urgent message.

Turkish tanks would not be allowed to cross into northern Iraq, he said. The Kurdish army known as peshmerga would repel them. “The people of Kurdistan,“ said the messenger, “would not stand by as spectators if Turkish tanks and panzers entered Kirkuk.” And finally, “Turkey also knows that a military incursion is out of the question. The world will not allow this. The US is here and does not want it.”

The Kurdish leader had his answer Thursday, May 31, when Turkish chief of staff Gen. Yasar Büyükanýt declared his army was ready for incursion into northern Iraq. "There is not only the PKK in northern Iraq,” he said. “There is Massoud Barzani as well"

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This incursion unheeding of strains with Washington would have two objectives, according to DEBKAfile’s military sources: To prevent the rise of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq and the fall of the oil town of Kirkuk into Kurdish hands. “Turkey cannot afford an independent Kurdish state headed by Barzani on its southern border,” said Gen. Büyükanýt.

Our sources add that Ankara has dramatically broadened its objectives since early May, when the Turks talked about a limited strike against separatist PKK hideouts in the Kandil mountains of N. Iraq. At the same time, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly 294 revealed on March 23, 80,000 Turkish troops were concentrated already then at Sirank, opposite the meeting point of the Turkish, Iraqi and Syrian borders.

A bombing in downtown Ankara earlier this month killed six people and injured more than a hundred. The PKK was blamed.

Sunday, May 27, US Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul discussed the possible outbreak of Turkish-Kurdish hostilities. Immediately after the conversation, the US military command began its preparations. Washington decided its first priority must be to avoid a military clash between US forces stationed in Kurdistan and invading Turkish units. No time was lost. May 30, US commanders and Barzani signed a document transferring security responsibility for the region from coalition forces to the Kurdish peshmerga. American troops were hurriedly pulled out of the Kurdish towns of Irbil, Dohuk and Suleimaniyeh, but remain in force in and around Kirkkuk

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