SALAHUDDIN, Iraq - A White House envoy entered northern Iraq on Tuesday to attend a conference of opposition leaders as Kurdish lawmakers warned of violence if Turkey invades Iraq in the event of a U.S.-led war.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. representative to the Iraqi opposition, crossed from Turkey into the Kurdish autonomous zone of Iraq to take part in discussions on the future of Iraq should President Saddam Hussein be overthrown, local officials said.
Khalilzad's visit comes amid increased regional tensions as war looms and Turkey's parliament considers a bill that would authorize sending its troops into northern Iraq in the event of war.
During a regular session of the Kurdish parliament in Irbil on Tuesday, speaker after speaker denounced Turkey's proposal.
"The position that Turkey is now taking is not a friendly one," said Emad Ahmad, a Patriotic Union parliamentary representative. "We can't forget that our main enemy is Saddam. But any other country that behaves like him will be the same to us."
The debate ended with the parliament's voting unanimously voted to call on the United States to stop Turkish troops from entering northern Iraq in the event of war.
Turkey fears that Iraqi Kurds, who already control an autonomous region of northern Iraq, would try to create their own state if Saddam is overthrown, and so encourage secessionist ambitions among Turkey's own Kurdish minority.
Tarik al-Azami — one of the opposition members at the conference in Salahuddin, 32 kilometers (20 miles) north of Irbil — said the group would send a delegation to Turkey to assure Ankara that the Iraqi Kurds don't want an independent state.
Earlier this week, Kurdish officials said any Turkish deployment would lead to clashes.
Students at universities in Irbil and Sulaymaniyah were planning demonstrations in the coming days against any Turkish invasion.
As Khalilzad arrived at the conference site, hundreds of Kurdish soldiers lined the single two-lane road to the mountaintop stronghold of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which controls this section of northern Iraq.
Aircraft — presumably U.S. or British warplanes that patrol the skies above northern Iraq as part of a no-fly zone — could be heard flying overhead.
Opposition leaders said that with Khalilzad's arrival, the conference can officially begin on Wednesday. The 65-member steering committee of Iraqi opposition figures elected at a conference in London last December has been meeting in closed-door exploratory sessions for four days in Salahuddin.
The opposition figures — including Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians and secular representatives — hope to press the American delegation on a number of matters, including an unpopular U.S. plan to establish an American military protectorate following Saddam's fall and the proposed Turkish incursion.
Since the mid-1990s, Turkey has maintained several thousand troops in northern Iraq to ward off incursions by the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group fighting the Turkish government. Tens of thousands of Turkish troops are expected to cross into northern Iraq in the event of a war.