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Turkey to send observers to Kirkuk

Gul: Seeks assurance that U.S.-led coalition controls Kirkuk
Gul: Seeks assurance that U.S.-led coalition controls Kirkuk

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ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- Turkey is preparing to send military observers to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, a Turkish foreign ministry official said Thursday.

The decision came after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell invited Turkish liaisons to confirm that U.S. forces control operations in the oil-rich northern Iraqi city and not Kurdish Peshmergas who took it without a fight Thursday.

In a meeting with Turkish officials earlier this month, Powell assured the Turks that the coalition would control efforts in northern Iraq and would establish a "coordination committee" comprised of representatives from Turkey, the United States and Iraqi Kurdish groups to discuss potential acts that could provoke Turkey to want to move more troops into northern Iraq.

By phone Thursday, Powell told Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul that the United States still stands by the assurances he gave the Turks at that meeting, the Turkish sources said. Powell also assured Gul that the coalition was monitoring the situation closely, they said.

Kurdish fighters backed by U.S. Special Forces took a corner of the city Thursday and then pushed into the center of the city, where they toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein and spent the afternoon celebrating and looting a Pepsico factory owned by one of Saddam's sons.

The presence of the Kurdish fighters in Kirkuk, however, prompted fears in Turkey of a Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq that could lead to an independent Kurdish state that could in turn stir Turkey's Kurdish population.

Pentagon sources said Thursday that the coalition would likely send more troops into the area in the next few days.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, in Kirkuk, reported that one of the Kurdish factions had appointed a governor of the city, backed by U.S. Special Forces, but that the governor had not yet been able to make his way into the city.

Turkey threw a wrench in coalition plans for a northern front as the war got under way last month when it refused to allow coalition troops to enter northern Iraq from Turkish territory. Without the tens of thousands of troops who would have entered from Turkey, U.S. Special Forces have been coordinating the Kurds and other coalition forces.

This month's agreement between Powell and Turkish officials included Turkey allowing overflights for U.S. heavy military equipment into northern Iraq and passage for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.

-- CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and Producer Anthony Kouardaoughli contributed to this report.

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