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U.S. Ambassador Says Kurds Want To Remain Part Of Iraq --> U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Khalilzad (file photo) (AFP) 11 December 2005 -- U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad says Iraqi Kurdish leaders realize that the Kurds would be isolated and surrounded by unfriendly neighbors if they split from the rest of Iraq.

Speaking on CNN today, Khalilzad said he has spoken repeatedly about this to Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

He said they both believe it is better to remain part of Iraq rather than pursue secession. Khalilzad was speakig only days ahead of Iraq's 15 December parliamentary elections.

Iraqi Kurds, who were harshly persecuted under Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, have long desired secession, but Turkey, Iran, and Syria -- all with substantial Kurdish minorities -- oppose the establishment of a Kurdish state on their borders.

The United States and the international community favor a unified but federal Iraq in which Kurds have a high degree of autonomy.