Washington, awaiting Ankara’s permission to send thousands of troops to Turkish bases for an advance into northern Iraq, has sent envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to the meeting to listen to the various opposition demands.
Khalilzad met leaders late Tuesday of the two Kurdish factions that wrested northern Iraq from Baghdad’s control after the 1991 Gulf War and now run a region Turkey wants to flood with troops to prevent the emergence of a state that could fire separatism among its own Kurds.
The Kurdish-dominated parliament of northern Iraq called on Washington Tuesday to head off an influx of Turkish troops, a prospect the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the host of the meeting, has said would lead to “uncontrolled clashes.”
Iraq’s opposition groups, many of which have no effective presence on their home soil, meet as Turkey’s parliament prepares to vote on letting U.S. troops use Turkish bases to launch a northern front in any war on Iraq.
Ankara is demanding in exchange a multi-billion dollar aid package and a big military presence in Kurdish-run northern Iraq to prevent any attempt by Iraq’s Kurds to expand their autonomy.
Turkey has long had troops in northern Iraq hunting separatist Turkish Kurds in a conflict that has claimed over 30,000 lives since 1984 but has largely died down since the Turks captured the Kurds’ leader Abdullah Ocalan four years ago.
Wednesday’s meeting, originally set for mid-January but repeatedly delayed, also aims to set up a leadership committee that could form the core of a future government, a prospect overshadowed by a long history of bitter opposition squabbling.
Bickering over power in the Kurdish zone flared into war in the mid-1990s between the KDP and its rivals in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), but they now share control of the mountainous area through parallel, cooperating administrations.
Other participants include the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which along with the Kurds make up the only significant armed opposition to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein inside Iraq.
The U.S.-funded Iraqi National Congress (INC) — headed by former banker Ahmad Chalabi, who has powerful friends in Congress and the Pentagon but has become a critic of U.S. plans for military rule — rounds out the list of major players.
The INC was long derided within the opposition as a U.S. puppet with no support in Iraq, but it has had a prominent place in preparations for a meeting the opposition hopes can prove its relevance before the start of a U.S.-led war.
U.S. officials laid out a plan earlier this month for a military occupation of Iraq after a successful U.S. invasion, creating concern among opposition groups which feel they should play a part in running a post-Saddam government.
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