'I think the European and American experts are mistaken (about Iraq),' Mr Talabani said. 'They have destroyed Iraqi society but left Saddam in power. Saddam is not afraid. The only way for him to leave is through co-operation . . . a military strike co-ordinated with the Iraqi opposition.'
Mr Talabani said President Saddam was anticipating such a step and had moved troops to northern Iraq, stepping up the nine-month blockade against the 3.5 million Kurds living there.
'It is linked (to attacks on UN agencies),' he said. 'I think Iraq is very afraid of any kind of co-operation and co-ordination between allied and Kurdish forces . . . and it is also to exert pressure on the Kurds to oblige them to go back to Baghdad.'
Mr Talabani was speaking in Istanbul, where he hoped to meet Turkish leaders before unprecedented talks planned for Wednesday between James Baker, the US Secretary of State, and a six-man Iraqi opposition delegation.
Mr Talabani and Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, will represent the Kurds. Mr Talabani, a candidate in a re-run later this year of May's Kurdish presidential election, hinted that they all hoped to meet President George Bush as well.
The Kurdish leader said he would press for an internationally recognised opposition government on Iraqi soil when he met Mr Baker, who has just finished a Middle East tour giving the impression that a strike against Iraq was imminent.
One possible base for such a strike would be the Incirlik Nato base in southern Turkey. The Turkish Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel, made contradictory statements yesterday about the use of Incirlik, but in the end he announced that Ankara would go along with any UN Security Council resolution.
Mr Demirel's policy has become more doveish towards Iraq and hawkish towards the Kurds, but Mr Talabani said Turkey remained the best hope for the Kurds.
Mr Talabani even said Iraqi Kurdistan might physically join up with Turkey. In his last talks with Mr Demirel, he raised the question of the Mosul Vilayet, the name of northern Iraq before Britain engineered its transfer from Turkey to Iraq. 'Mr Demirel only laughed . . . but it must be discussed. Iraq has violated all its obligations (to the Kurds) made in 1926 and 1932,' Mr Talabani said.
'I am not taking Turkey as an ideal. I am taking it as relative to Iraq and Iran. Here you can speak and shout. There is a democratic process,' he said.
Mr Talabani said that Iraqi agents had been arrested and confessed to responsibility for a recent spate ofattacks on UN personnel, foreign aid workers and Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of the French President. 'I hope the world will treat us in a special way . . . I personally prefer that the UN would deal with the Kurdish administration, not through Baghdad, which will always make problems,' Mr Talabani said. 'This is the first time that the American administration receives us . . . the American position is developing forward.'