Wednesday, August 19, 2009

US may work with Arab, Kurd forces in north Iraq

The United States is discussing arrangements that could see its troops work alongside Iraqi and Kurdish forces in disputed areas of northern Iraq, the senior American commander said on Monday. General Ray Odierno said he was discussing an accord with ministers from the central government and the autonomous Kurdish region that could require that an exception be made to last year's landmark US-Iraq security deal.

"One of the things that we are recommending is that initially we would have a US, Iraqi security force, KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) forces together in order to have confidence-building measures," he told reporters in Baghdad.He said the measures would "over time, revert to just KRG-IA (Iraqi Army) forces that work for the government of Iraq" in the disputed zones along the Kurdish region's border with the rest of the country, primarily in Nineveh, Kirkuk and Diyala provinces.

Odierno said he has discussed the proposals with both Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani, and that they have asked him to "to take a look at this" issue. "We have Al-Qaeda exploiting this fissure that you're seeing between the Arabs and the Kurds in Nineveh and the KRG, and what we're trying to do is close that fissure, that seam," he said. Because the potential arrangements, which Odierno stressed were still in the early stages of discussion, would involve American troops being stationed in villages, an exception to the US-Iraq security accord may be necessary. The deal required US forces to pull out of Iraqi cities at the end of June, and leave the country entirely by the end of 2011.

"Disputed territories are not in any cities, (they're in) small villages, so we'll have to come to agreement on this, but... there's a potential for it (an exception to the deal) and that's what we have to discuss, in the disputed areas," he said. Around 130,000 US troops remain in Iraq, but a brigade is set to leave the country by the end of August and not be replaced. The US military has not yet specified how many troops would be left in Iraq at that point. Odierno said he did not yet know how many US troops would be required for the new arrangements, or which parts of Iraq they would be deployed from, but said he was confident the American timeline for withdrawing from Iraq would remain unchanged.

He said that if the proposals were implemented, they would not be in place "for long -- if we do it, it'll be just to build confidence in the forces, so they're comfortable working together."They would first be set up in Nineveh province, "because that's the one where we're having the most violence, but we'll also expand this to ... Kirkuk as well as Diyala province," Odierno said. Kurdish leaders have long demanded that their autonomous region, currently comprising three provinces, be expanded to include historically Kurdish-inhabited parts of Nineveh and Diyala as well as all of Kirkuk. Baghdad, however, says the Kurdish region's borders should not extend past Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk provinces.

Maliki visited the region on August 2 to meet Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, and reopen dialogue in a meeting which both sides said afterwards was positive. Though violence has dropped nationwide in recent months, attacks remain common in Baghdad and Mosul, the provincial capital of Nineveh province.On August 10, at least 34 people were killed and 155 wounded when two massive truck bombs exploded, levelling dozens of homes, in the village of Khaznah near Mosul.US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, warned on Monday that Iraqis would be tested by more "senseless" violence, but vowed the United States would meet the 2011 withdrawal deadline."We will remove all our combat brigades by the end of next August. And we will remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. And for America, the Iraq war will end."

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