Washington (AFP) July 25, 2010
As US troops withdraw from Iraq, a large swath of the oil-rich north coveted by the Kurdish regional government remains a powder keg that threatens to explode in violence, experts here say.
Since the 2003 invasion, US forces have managed to keep an uneasy peace in the ethnically diverse area, home to Turkmen, Kurds and Arabs -- including many forced to resettle there under Saddam Hussein's regime.
The US military withdrawal from Iraq is on schedule, according to the commander of US forces there, General Raymond Odierno.
Just 50,000 troops will remain after August 31, down from a peak of more than 170,000 and ahead of a full withdrawal in 2011.
Odierno however acknowledged to reporters in Washington at mid-week that despite some progress, "we have not solved the problems of the disputed areas" of northern Iraq.
"That's a problem that has to be dealt with in the future," he said. "Do I think this will be resolved by the end of 2011? No."
The US intelligence community's annual threat assessment earlier warned about the volatile region.
Regional tensions "have the potential to derail Iraq's generally positive security trajectory, including triggering conflict among Iraq 's ethno-sectarian groups," then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair wrote in the assessment, out in February.
Land ownership, control of oil resources, and integrating Kurdish peshmerga fighters into Iraq's army are issues that "still need to be worked out, and miscalculations or misperceptions on either side risk an inadvertent escalation of violence."
US diplomatic and military involvement "will remain critical in defusing crises in this sphere," Blair wrote.
There are 15 disputed zones in northern Iraq, including oil-rich Kirkuk province, large parts of Nineveh, and two districts in Diyala.
Kurdish leaders want their autonomous region to include historically Kurdish-inhabited parts of Nineveh and Diyala as well as all of the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk.
Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish peshmerga fighters have clashed over the past two years as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has increased Iraqi Security Force (ISF) presence in the area.
To help calm tensions, US troops started joint patrols with Arab and Kurdish soldiers in disputed zones in January. Odierno wants these units to be incorporated into the ISF by the time US forces fully withdraw.
Is this realistic? The joint patrols have been successful, but they "are only as good as the intent of the political leadership in Baghdad and Arbil," said Eric Davis, an Iraq expert at Rutgers University.
Arbil is the capital of Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region, which operates as a semi-independent state within Iraq.
Davis fears the Kurds "are going to continue to treat the peshmerga as a separate force outside of the central government, and the leadership in Baghdad is going to try to use the Iraqi army as it becomes stronger to intimidate the peshmerga."
Integrating the peshmerga into the ISF is a recipe for disaster, said Michael Gunter at the Tennessee Technological University, who has written extensively on the Kurds.
"Those are the very two groups that are most likely to start fighting each other," he said.
Odierno briefly raised the idea of introducing United Nations peacekeepers to the region, but there are "currently no discussions under way" for that scenario, said Pentagon spokesman Major Shawn Turner.
Despite the potential for violence, Davis believes many regional time bombs can be defused with resolve from Iraq's government -- still in limbo since March elections.
"A lot of this is less about strict ethic stuff, it's more about elites trying to manipulate the situation for their own political ends," he said.
A deal for exploiting oil in the region agreeable to Kurdish authorities would be an important first step, Davis said.
Perhaps the thorniest issue is Kirkuk, 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Baghdad, which the Kurds insist should be under their control.
Davis dismisses the idea. "It's a multi-ethnic town, and if anyone ends up getting a special deal, it will lead to anger and resentment and more violence -- it's not a solution," he said.
Ideas for Kirkuk include turning it into a separate province -- similar to what Washington DC is in the United States - and turning it into an international city under UN protection, similar to the status of Trieste, on the border between Italy and Slovenia at the end of World War II.
Gunter believes the Kurds, who are losing their strong post-invasion position as the central government in Baghdad strengthens, should show flexibility in their demands.
"For the Kurds to get their best deal, they have to be magnanimous with the Arabs and not be seen as taking advantage of their temporary weakness," he said.
In any case the US military clearly realizes that the area remains volatile. The US force in the area "will probably be one of the last units to leave Iraq," Odierno said.
Share This Article With Planet Earth
Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century
The lion died, but Iranian circus still delights Iraqis
Hilla, Iraq (AFP) July 21, 2010
The hapless lion and snake both died in an Iraqi heatwave, but for the jugglers, clowns, fire-eater and other circus performers, the show in ancient Babylon had to go on. This night, under the glare of spotlights and despite the sweltering heat, entertainment-starved spectators in the war-ravaged country are glued to their seats as a daredevil roars inside the Globe of Death on a motorbike. ... read more
Russian missile move angers NATO member Estonia|
Satellites Track Two-Stage Interceptor In Missile Defense Test
US, Poland sign modified missile shield deal
THAAD Weapon System Achieves Lowest Endo Intercept To Date
Successful A-Darter Missile Firings With South African Gripen
LockMart Partners With NANA Development For Critical GMD Missile Defense Contract
New Generation S-500 Missile Defense System To Enter Service
Israel to deploy new anti-missile system in November
US drone strikes kill eight militants in Pakistan
Boeing Signs MOU With Aeronautics For DA42 Dominator UAS
U.S. anti-drone weapon unveiled
Pilotless drones show new face of war at Farnborough
Raytheon's ASTOR Saving Lives In The Counterinsurgency Battle
Testing Of Australia's Network Centric Command And Control System Completed
Thales UK wins Congo army radio contract
Savi Ships Compact Mobile Tracking Systems For Marine Afghan Forces
Elbit Systems Introduces Rattler A
Joint Standoff Weapon C-1 Completes Captive Flight Test Series
MBDA Offers Glimpse Into Future Soldier Support Weaponry
South Africa Purchases Raytheon Paveway Laser-Guided Bombs
Raytheon wins Saudi TOW missile contract
At Farnborough, little military business
Pentagon looking for supplemental funds
Italy reduces Eurofighter order
China taking 'more aggressive' stance at sea: US admiral
Commentary: Less is more
Outside View: Democrats' misfortune
Strained US-Sino ties loom at Asia security forum
Phalanx Sensors Used In Laser Shoot Down Of Airborne Targets
Boeing Accepts Delivery Of Key Component For US Army's HEL TD
Single Directed Energy Systems Team Created in Albuquerque
Northrop Grumman Awarded Phase Two Fiber Laser Contracts With DARPA
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2010 - SpaceDaily. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement|