Associated Press SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq Retired U.S. Lt. Gen. Jay Garner met with Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq today, praising the support they gave in ridding the country of Saddam Hussein. Garner, who is overseeing the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, was on the second day of his tour around the country. His helicopter landed in Sulaymaniyah under heavy guard and was met by a delegation from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main Kurdish groups. It was Garners first time in the region since he ran Operation Provide Comfort, coordinating humanitarian aid after Saddam crushed a Kurdish rebellion following the 1991 Gulf War. Kurdish cooperation is key for the peaceful development of northern Iraq, but their internal struggles and disputes with both Iraqi Arabs and neighboring Turkey have left many in the region anxious. The PUK has often been at odds with the Kurdish Democratic Party that holds sway in the western part of Iraqs Kurdish region, and their disagreements resulted in civil war in 1996. They later found common ground as partners with Washington, and in October the full Kurdish parliament convened for the first time in eight years. But last week, in a possible sign that tensions were flaring up again, KDP leader Massoud Barzani accused the PUK of triggering looting and chaos in northern cities by storming into the Iraqi oil center of Kirkuk. Today, Garner praised the Kurds, despite their internal tensions. I think the time has come for the Kurds. The job theyve done in the north is a tribute for free men and women, he told The Associated Press. Garner did not say how his office would address the sensitive question of Kurds aspirations of independence. The Kurds formed a regional government in 1991 under the protection of U.S. jets patrolling northern Iraqs no-fly zone. Turkey, which lies immediately to the north, is wary of events in Iraqs Kurdish area, concerned they might encourage Turkeys own Kurdish population to seek independence.